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Delirium in ICU Patients

What is ICU delirium?

​​​​​​Delirium is a condition that affects the brain. It often shows up suddenly, within hours or days. Some features of delirium include having trouble focusing (called inattention), sudden changes in behavior, and confusion. For most people, delirium doesn’t last long – usually only a few days.

There are many reasons for someone to develop delirium such as infection, certain medicines and problems with blood sugar. People who are in an intensive care unit (ICU) are at risk of developing delirium, called ICU delirium. About 2 out of 3 patients in the ICU develop delirium, and those on breathing machines tend to be most at risk. ​In 2015 and 2016, Alberta reported 41% of adult patients in the ICU developed delirium.

It’s important to diagnose and treat ICU delirium as quickly as possible. Research shows that patients with ICU delirium have poor outcomes if they leave the hospital without treatment (this is not common). This can lead to long-term problems with brain function, muscle weakness, and not being able to maintain the same quality of life as they did before they were in the intensive care unit. Depression and anxiety are the most common long-term problems experienced by patients diagnosed with ICU delirium.

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Current as of: April 5, 2018

Author: Critical Care SCN