What causes delirium?

Updated: Apr 25, 2019
  • Author: Kannayiram Alagiakrishnan, MD, MBBS, MPH, MHA; Chief Editor: Glen L Xiong, MD  more...
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Almost any medical illness, intoxication, or medication can cause delirium. Often, delirium is multifactorial in etiology, and the physician treating the delirium should investigate each cause contributing to it. Medications are the most common reversible cause of delirium.

Some of the other common reversible causes include the following:

  • Hypoxia

  • Hyperthermia

  • Anticholinergic delirium

  • Alcohol or sedative withdrawal

Other causes of delirium include the following:

  • Infections

  • Metabolic abnormalities

  • Structural lesions of the brain

  • Postoperative states

  • Miscellaneous causes, such as sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, fecal impaction, urinary retention, and change of environment

  • In persons who are elderly, medications at therapeutic doses and levels can cause delirium.

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