A rapid review of the pathoetiology, presentation, and management of delirium in adults with COVID-19

J Psychosom Res. 2021 Feb:141:110350. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2020.110350. Epub 2020 Dec 25.


Background COVID-19 causes significant morbidity and mortality. Despite the high prevalence of delirium and delirium-related symptoms in COVID-19 patients, data and evidence-based recommendations on the pathophysiology and management of delirium are limited. Objective We conducted a rapid review of COVID-19-related delirium literature to provide a synthesis of literature on the prevalence, pathoetiology, and management of delirium in these patients. Methods Systematic searches of Medline, Embase, PsycInfo, LitCovid, WHO-COVID-19, and Web of Science electronic databases were conducted. Grey literature was also reviewed, including preprint servers, archives, and websites of relevant organizations. Search results were limited to the English language. We included literature focused on adults with COVID-19 and delirium. Papers were excluded if they did not mention signs or symptoms of delirium. Results 229 studies described prevalence, pathoetiology, and/or management of delirium in adults with COVID-19. Delirium was rarely assessed with validated tools. Delirium affected >50% of all patients with COVID-19 admitted to the ICU. The etiology of COVID-19 delirium is likely multifactorial, with some evidence of direct brain effect. Prevention remains the cornerstone of management in these patients. To date, there is no evidence to suggest specific pharmacological strategies. Discussion Delirium is common in COVID-19 and may manifest from both indirect and direct effects on the central nervous system. Further research is required to investigate contributing mechanisms. As there is limited empirical literature on delirium management in COVID-19, management with non-pharmacological measures and judicious use of pharmacotherapy is suggested.

Keywords: Cognitive; Confusion; Covid-19; Delirium; Neuropsychiatric.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19 / psychology*
  • COVID-19 / therapy
  • Delirium* / diagnosis
  • Delirium* / etiology
  • Delirium* / therapy
  • Humans