Clinical presentation of delirium in patients undergoing hematopoietic stem cell transplantation

Cancer. 2005 Feb 15;103(4):810-20. doi: 10.1002/cncr.20845.


Background: Delirium is common in patients undergoing hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) and is associated with considerable morbidity and excess mortality in diverse patient samples. Although delirium can be treated successfully, it is largely undiagnosed. Understanding the clinical presentation of delirium may help improve the recognition of delirium in these patients. In the current study, the authors investigated the clinical presentation of delirium in HSCT patients, including the time course of these symptoms and comorbid affective distress, fatigue, and pain.

Methods: Ninety patients ages 22-62 years were recruited prior to undergoing their first allogeneic or autologous HSCT. Delirium, distress, and pain symptom assessments were conducted prospectively 3 times per week from pretransplantation through Day 30 posttransplantation.

Results: Delirium episodes occurred in 50% of patients and lasted approximately 10 days, with peak severity at the end of the second week posttransplantation. Factor analysis revealed three groups of delirium symptoms representing psychosis-behavior, cognition, and mood-consciousness. Delirium episodes were characterized by rapid onset of psychomotor and sleep-wake cycle disturbance that persisted and cognitive symptoms that continued to worsen throughout much of the episode. Rises in psychosis-behavior and cognitive symptoms predated the start of delirium episodes by approximately 4 days. Affective distress and fatigue were common and appeared to be associated most with psychosis-behavioral delirium symptoms.

Conclusions: The results describe in detail the clinical presentation of delirium in patients undergoing HSCT. Affective distress and fatigue commonly were associated with delirium. These findings may aid clinicians in improving the recognition and treatment of delirium in this population and avoiding further morbidity and potential mortality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Delirium / etiology*
  • Delirium / physiopathology*
  • Fatigue / complications
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Mood Disorders / complications
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pain / complications
  • Time Factors