Neurocovid: Pharmacological Recommendations for Delirium Associated With COVID-19

Psychosomatics. 2020 Nov-Dec;61(6):585-596. doi: 10.1016/j.psym.2020.05.013. Epub 2020 May 21.


Background: The pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has emerged as one of the biggest health threats of our generation. A significant portion of patients are presenting with delirium and neuropsychiatric sequelae of the disease. Unique examination findings and responses to treatment have been identified.

Objective: In this article, we seek to provide pharmacologic and treatment recommendations specific to delirium in patients with COVID-19.

Methods: We performed a literature search reviewing the neuropsychiatric complications and treatments in prior coronavirus epidemics including Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronaviruses, as well as the emerging literature regarding COVID-19. We also convened a work group of consultation-liaison psychiatrists actively managing patients with COVID-19 in our hospital. Finally, we synthesized these findings to provide preliminary pharmacologic recommendations for treating delirium in these patients.

Results: Delirium is frequently found in patients who test positive for COVID-19, even in the absence of respiratory symptoms. There appears to be a higher rate of agitation, myoclonus, abulia, and alogia. No data are currently available on the treatment of delirium in patients with COVID-19. Extrapolating from general delirium treatment, Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome/severe acute respiratory syndrome case reports, and our experience, preliminary recommendations for pharmacologic management have been assembled.

Conclusions: COVID-19 is associated with neuropsychiatric symptoms. Low-potency neuroleptics and alpha-2 adrenergic agents may be especially useful in this setting. Further research into the pathophysiology of COVID-19 will be key in developing more targeted treatment guidelines.

Keywords: COVID-19; consultation-liaison psychiatry; coronavirus; delirium; neuropsychiatry; psychopharmacology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic alpha-2 Receptor Agonists / therapeutic use*
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Betacoronavirus
  • Brain Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Brain Diseases / psychology
  • COVID-19
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / therapeutic use
  • Coronavirus Infections / physiopathology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / psychology
  • Delirium / drug therapy*
  • Delirium / physiopathology
  • Delirium / psychology
  • Dopamine Agonists / therapeutic use*
  • GABA Modulators / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Lorazepam / therapeutic use
  • Melatonin / therapeutic use
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / physiopathology*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / psychology
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Adrenergic alpha-2 Receptor Agonists
  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Dopamine Agonists
  • GABA Modulators
  • Melatonin
  • Lorazepam