Risk factors of delirium after cardiac surgery: a systematic review

Eur J Cardiovasc Nurs. 2011 Dec;10(4):197-204. doi: 10.1016/j.ejcnurse.2010.09.001. Epub 2010 Sep 25.


Background: Delirium or acute confusion is a temporary mental disorder that occurs frequently among hospitalized elderly patients, but also in younger patients a delirium can develop. Patients who undergo cardiac surgery have an increased risk of developing delirium that is associated with many negative consequences. Therefore, prevention of delirium is essential. Despite the high incidence of delirium, a paucity of data on risk factors for delirium exists.

Aim: The aim of this study was to summarize the available information concerning these risk factors.

Methods: A literature research was performed using the PubMed, Cinahl, and Cochrane Library databases and was limited to the last 10 years.

Results: Our review revealed 27 risk factors; 12 predisposing and 15 precipitating factors for delirium after cardiac surgery. The most established predisposing risk factors were atrial fibrillation, cognitive impairment, depression, history of stroke, older age, and peripheral vascular disease. The most established precipitating risk factor was a red blood cell transfusion. An abnormal albumin level was reported as the most established precipitating risk factor among blood values tested. A low cardiac output and the use of an Intra Aortic Balloon Pump or inotropic medication seem to be the most relevant risk factors associated with a postoperative delirium.

Conclusion: A multifactorial risk model should be applied to identify patients at an increased risk of developing delirium following elective cardiac surgery. In these patients, if possible, preventative interventions can be taken and early recognition of delirium can be realized. This could potentially decrease the incidence of delirium and negative consequences caused by a postoperative delirium.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / nursing
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / surgery*
  • Delirium / etiology*
  • Delirium / nursing
  • Humans
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology*
  • Postoperative Complications / nursing
  • Risk Factors