Incidence and short-term consequences of delirium in critically ill patients: A prospective observational cohort study

Int J Nurs Stud. 2012 Jul;49(7):775-83. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2011.11.016. Epub 2011 Dec 22.


Background: Delirium is a serious and frequent psycho-organic disorder in critically ill patients. Reported incidence rates vary to a large extent and there is a paucity of data concerning delirium incidence rates for the different subgroups of intensive care unit (ICU) patients and their short-term health consequences.

Objectives: To determine the overall incidence and duration of delirium, per delirium subtype and per ICU admission diagnosis. Furthermore, we determined the short-term consequences of delirium.

Design: Prospective observational study.

Participants and setting: All adult consecutive patients admitted in one year to the ICU of a university medical centre.

Methods: Delirium was assessed using the Confusion Assessment Method-ICU three times a day. Delirium was divided in three subtypes: hyperactive, hypoactive and mixed subtype. As measures for short-term consequences we registered duration of mechanical ventilation, re-intubations, incidence of unplanned removal of tubes, length of (ICU) stay and in-hospital mortality.

Results: 1613 patients were included of which 411 (26%) developed delirium. The incidence rate in the neurosurgical (10%) and cardiac surgery group (12%) was the lowest, incidence was intermediate in medical patients (40%), while patients with a neurological diagnosis had the highest incidence (64%). The mixed subtype occurred the most (53%), while the hyperactive subtype the least (10%). The median delirium duration was two days [IQR 1-7], but significantly longer (P<0.0001) for the mixed subtype. More delirious patients were mechanically ventilated and for a longer period of time, were more likely to remove their tube and catheters, stayed in the ICU and hospital for a longer time, and had a six times higher chance of dying compared to non-delirium ICU patients, even after adjusting for their severity of illness score. Delirium was associated with an extended duration of mechanical ventilation, length of stay in the ICU and in-hospital, as well as with in-hospital mortality.

Conclusions: The delirium incidence in a mixed ICU population is high and differs importantly between ICU admission diagnoses and the subtypes of delirium. Patients with delirium had a significantly higher incidence of short-term health problems, independent from their severity of illness and this was most pronounced in the mixed subtype of delirium. Delirium is significantly associated with worse short-term outcome.

MeSH terms

  • Critical Illness*
  • Delirium / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Prospective Studies