Delirium is a medical term. The condition is also known as acute confusional state. Doctors use it to describe patients who have lost parts or all of their ability to focus attention. People who suffer from it may also have problems to concentrate, or to remember things or other people. Delirium is a medical symptom. It is not a disease.
A delirium can have many causes. The most common ones include:
- Injuries to the head or the nervous system
- Mental illness
- Trauma or shock
- Fever or pain
- Certain substances found in drugs or poisons
- Problems with metabolism. If a substance is transformed into another using an enzyme, a problem with that enzyme will lead to too much of the first, and too little of the second substance.
- Not having enough water, or food, or sleep
- Withdrawal symptoms (when people try to get away from a drugs or alcohol addiction). The delirium associated with alcohol withdrawal is called delirium tremens.
There are several definitions of what constitutes a delirium, but in general, the following is true:
- Disturbance of consciousness; problems to focus, shift the focus, concentrate, or shift concentration from one item to another.
- hallucinations; reduced ability to solve problems.
- Sleeping problems are common, very often the circadian rhythm is lost.
- Problems with thinking; problems remembering things.
Deliria are always a medical emergency, because it is impossible to predict how they develop. Worst-case scenarios include cardiac arrest, and malfunctions of the metabolism. In order to be able to treat a delirium, its cause must usually be found. In the case of alcoholism, the most common cause for a delirium is the withdrawal of alcohol. This condition is known as Delirium tremens.
- Hales E and Yudofsky JA, eds, The American Psychiatric Press Textbook of Psychiatry, Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc., 2003
- Gelder, Mayou, Geddes (2005). Psychiatry. (Pg.138) New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc.