Role of dexmedetomidine in the treatment of delirium in critically ill patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Minerva Anestesiol. 2021 Jan;87(1):65-76. doi: 10.23736/S0375-9393.20.14492-4. Epub 2020 Dec 10.


Introduction: Although dexmedetomidine has been found to prevent delirium in critically ill patients, it is uncertain whether it can treat acute delirium. This study aimed to evaluate the efficacy and safety of dexmedetomidine in treating delirium, by analyzing and reviewing data from previous studies.

Evidence acquisition: Clinical trial data on the use of dexmedetomidine in adult critically ill patients with delirium were retrieved from four databases (PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, and the Cochrane Library) and, from inception to May, 2020.

Evidence synthesis: Ten randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and five non-RCTs met the selection criteria and data were obtained from 1017 patients. In one study, dexmedetomidine reduced the duration of delirium to a greater extent than did the placebo. In six studies, it was associated with a lower point-prevalence of delirium after treatment (OR, 0.39; 95% CI, 0.20, 0.76; P=0.006) and a shorter time to resolution of delirium (hours; MD, -23.25; 95% CI, -45.28, -1.21; P=0.04) compared with those of other drugs. In four RCTs, it was superior to haloperidol in reducing the time to resolution of delirium (hours; MD, -30.17; P=0.01). However, in seven studies, it showed a higher risk of bradycardia (OR, 3.48; 95% CI, 1.47, 8.23; P=0.004) than that of comparators.

Conclusions: Dexmedetomidine promotes the resolution of delirium but also increases the incidence of bradycardia during treatment. Furthermore, it may be superior to haloperidol in treating delirium, although more studies are needed to confirm this.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bradycardia
  • Critical Illness
  • Delirium* / drug therapy
  • Dexmedetomidine* / therapeutic use
  • Humans


  • Dexmedetomidine