The syndrome of excited delirium

Forensic Sci Med Pathol. 2014 Jun;10(2):223-8. doi: 10.1007/s12024-014-9530-2. Epub 2014 Feb 14.


The excited delirium syndrome (EDS) is a life-threatening condition caused by a variety of factors including drug intoxication and psychiatric illness. Fatal instances of excited delirium frequently come to the attention of the medical examiner/coroner due to the circumstances and potential causes. Excited delirium may include paranoid, aggressive, and incoherent behavior which may lead to an encounter with law enforcement. In some instances, the person may die while in the presence of law enforcement. This circumstance further broadens the potential causes of death particularly as EDS has no pathognomonic autopsy finding. Although the syndrome of excited delirium is sufficient to explain death, other intervening causes need to be considered. These include chest or neck compression during restraint, blunt trauma, and underlying natural disease. Since chest/neck compression, natural disease (e.g., atherosclerosis), blunt trauma, and excited delirium are not mutually exclusive, all may be present in one death. The forensic pathologist's role is to determine what caused and/or contributed to the death. When attempting to determine the proximate cause of death in instances with multiple potential causes, determining the mechanism of death often is useful. As not all causes of death have pathologically-demonstrable mechanisms of death, examination of the circumstances of the death often are diagnostically important. The main goal of the autopsy of deaths suspected to be due to EDS is to identify (or exclude) intervening diseases or injuries sufficient to explain the death in the context of the investigated circumstances.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asphyxia / diagnosis
  • Asphyxia / etiology
  • Autopsy
  • Conducted Energy Weapon Injuries / physiopathology
  • Delirium / physiopathology*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Forensic Medicine*
  • Humans
  • Irritants / adverse effects
  • Physical Exertion / physiology
  • Professional Role
  • Psychomotor Agitation / physiopathology*
  • Psychotic Disorders / physiopathology
  • Restraint, Physical / adverse effects
  • Restraint, Physical / physiology
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Syndrome
  • Wounds and Injuries / pathology
  • omega-Chloroacetophenone / adverse effects


  • Irritants
  • omega-Chloroacetophenone