JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Antipsychotics in the treatment of delirium: a systematic review

Dallas P Seitz, Sudeep S Gill, Louis T van Zyl
Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 2007, 68 (1): 11-21
17284125

OBJECTIVE: Antipsychotics are frequently used in the management of delirium, although there is limited information regarding the safety and efficacy of antipsychotics in treating delirium. The purpose of this study was to systematically evaluate the evidence for the efficacy and safety of antipsychotics in treating delirium.

SOURCES: MEDLINE (July 1980 to July 2005) and Cochrane databases were searched for English language articles using keywords.

STUDY SELECTION: Prospective studies with standardized criteria for diagnosing delirium and evaluating its severity.

DATA SYNTHESIS: In total, 14 studies (9 single agent studies and 5 comparison trials) met inclusion criteria. Study medications included haloperidol, chlorpromazine, olanzapine, risperidone, and quetiapine. Improvements in delirium severity were reported with all of these antipsychotic medications. No study included a placebo comparison to account for spontaneous improvements in delirium. Other methodological limitations included inadequate blinding, randomization, and handling of participant withdrawals. The improvements in delirium tended to occur soon after initiation of treatment, and most of the studies examined used relatively low doses of antipsychotic medication. Serious adverse events attributable to antipsychotic medication were uncommon in studies, although side effects were not evaluated systematically in most studies.

CONCLUSION: To date, there are no published double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials to establish the efficacy or safety of any antipsychotic medication in the management of delirium. There is limited evidence from uncontrolled studies that supports the use of low-dose, short-term treatment of delirium with some antipsychotics. Further study with well-designed clinical trials is required in this area.

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