Diagnosis and Management of Delirium in Critically Ill Infants: Case Report and Review

Pediatrics. 2016 Mar;137(3):e20151940. doi: 10.1542/peds.2015-1940. Epub 2016 Feb 2.


Delirium in children is common but not widely understood by pediatric practitioners, often leading to underdiagnosis and lack of treatment. This presents a significant challenge in the young patients in the PICU who are most at risk for delirium and in whom the core features of delirium are difficult to assess and treat. However, because of the potential increased morbidity and mortality associated with untreated delirium in adults and children, it remains important to address it promptly. The literature for delirium in this age group is limited. Here we present the case of an infant with multiple underlying medical risk factors who exhibited waxing and waning motor restlessness with disrupted sleep-wake cycles contributing significantly to destabilization of vital parameters. Making a diagnosis of delirium was key to guiding further treatment. After appropriate environmental interventions are implemented and underlying medical causes are addressed, antipsychotic medications, although not Food and Drug Administration-approved in infants, are the mainstay of pharmacotherapy for delirium in older age groups. They may lengthen corrected QT interval (QTc) intervals, presenting a challenge in infants who frequently have other coexisting risks for QTc prolongation, as in our case. The risk from QTc prolongation needs to be balanced against that from untreated delirium. Low doses of risperidone were successfully used in this patient and without side effects or worsening of QTc interval. This case illustrates the importance of increased recognition of delirium in children, including infants, and the role for cautious consideration of atypical antipsychotics in the very young.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Multiple
  • Antipsychotic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Critical Illness*
  • Delirium / diagnosis*
  • Delirium / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Long QT Syndrome / chemically induced
  • Risperidone / therapeutic use*


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Risperidone