What is delirium?

Updated: Apr 25, 2019
  • Author: Kannayiram Alagiakrishnan, MD, MBBS, MPH, MHA; Chief Editor: Glen L Xiong, MD  more...
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Delirium is a transient global disorder of cognition. The condition is a medical emergency associated with increased morbidity and mortality rates. Early diagnosis and resolution of symptoms are correlated with the most favorable outcomes. 

Delirium is not a disease but a syndrome with multiple causes that result in a similar constellation of signs and symptoms. Delirium is defined as a transient, usually reversible, cause of mental dysfunction and manifests clinically with a wide range of neuropsychiatric abnormalities. The clinical hallmarks are decreased awareness and attention span and a waxing and waning type of confusion.

Delirium is often unrecognized or misdiagnosed as dementia, depression, mania, psychotic disorders, or a typical response of the aging brain to hospitalization.

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