Septic-associated encephalopathy (SAE) is a key manifestation of sepsis, ranging from delirium to coma and occurring in up to 70% of patients admitted to the ICU. SAE is associated with higher ICU and hospital mortality, and also with poorer long-term outcomes, including cognitive and functional outcomes. The pathophysiology of SAE is complex, and it may involve neurotransmitter dysfunction, inflammatory and ischemic lesions to the brain, microglial activation, and blood-brain barrier dysfunction. Delirium (which is included in the SAE spectrum) is mostly diagnosed with validated scales in the ICU population. There is no established treatment for SAE; benzodiazepines should generally be avoided in this setting. Nonpharmacological prevention and management is key for treating SAE; it includes avoiding oversedation (mainly with benzodiazepines), early mobilization, and sleep promotion.
Keywords: Sepsis; blood–brain barrier; microglia; neuroanatomy; neuroinflammation; sepsis-associated encephalopathy.