What causes of delirium?

Updated: Sep 19, 2018
  • Author: Richard D Shin, MD; Chief Editor: Gil Z Shlamovitz, MD, FACEP  more...
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Delirium or acute altered mental status may be caused by the following:

  • Intoxication with a substance (eg, hallucinogens, alcohol, medications, toxins)

  • Polypharmacy, most often with psychoactive medications

  • Major surgery, orthopedic trauma, prolonged immobility, and “ICU psychosis”

  • Occult infection (eg, UTI, meningitis, encephalitis, neurosyphilis, sepsis)

  • Seizure disorder

  • Acute mania or other psychiatric etiology

  • Endocrine crisis (eg, thyroid, adrenal, diabetic)

  • High fever seen with infection or heat stroke

  • Renal failure

  • Liver failure

  • Neoplasia

  • Inflammation (eg, systemic lupus erythematosus)

  • Cerebral vascular accident (CVA)

  • Respiratory dysfunction (eg, hypoxia, hypercarbia)

  • Shock

  • Chronic neurological disorders such as dementia and Parkinson disease

  • “Sundowning” (see below)

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