Outcome of delirium in critically ill patients: systematic review and meta-analysis

BMJ. 2015 Jun 3;350:h2538. doi: 10.1136/bmj.h2538.


Objectives: To determine the relation between delirium in critically ill patients and their outcomes in the short term (in the intensive care unit and in hospital) and after discharge from hospital.

Design: Systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies.

Data sources: PubMed, Embase, CINAHL, Cochrane Library, and PsychINFO, with no language restrictions, up to 1 January 2015.

Eligibility criteria for selection studies: Reports were eligible for inclusion if they were prospective observational cohorts or clinical trials of adults in intensive care units who were assessed with a validated delirium screening or rating system, and if the association was measured between delirium and at least one of four clinical endpoints (death during admission, length of stay, duration of mechanical ventilation, and any outcome after hospital discharge). Studies were excluded if they primarily enrolled patients with a neurological disorder or patients admitted to intensive care after cardiac surgery or organ/tissue transplantation, or centered on sedation management or alcohol or substance withdrawal. Data were extracted on characteristics of studies, populations sampled, identification of delirium, and outcomes. Random effects models and meta-regression analyses were used to pool data from individual studies.

Results: Delirium was identified in 5280 of 16,595 (31.8%) critically ill patients reported in 42 studies. When compared with control patients without delirium, patients with delirium had significantly higher mortality during admission (risk ratio 2.19, 94% confidence interval 1.78 to 2.70; P<0.001) as well as longer durations of mechanical ventilation and lengths of stay in the intensive care unit and in hospital (standard mean differences 1.79 (95% confidence interval 0.31 to 3.27; P<0.001), 1.38 (0.99 to 1.77; P<0.001), and 0.97 (0.61 to 1.33; P<0.001), respectively). Available studies indicated an association between delirium and cognitive impairment after discharge.

Conclusions: Nearly a third of patients admitted to an intensive care unit develop delirium, and these patients are at increased risk of dying during admission, longer stays in hospital, and cognitive impairment after discharge.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition Disorders / mortality
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Critical Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Critical Illness / mortality
  • Critical Illness / psychology*
  • Delirium / mortality
  • Delirium / therapy*
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Patient Discharge / statistics & numerical data
  • Respiration, Artificial / mortality
  • Treatment Outcome