Skip to content

    Mental Health Center

    Font Size

    Antipsychotics Don't Ease Delirium in These People

    These drugs won't prevent or effectively treat the condition, review suggests

    WebMD News from HealthDay

    By Steven Reinberg

    HealthDay Reporter

    TUESDAY, March 29, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Antipsychotic medications, such as haloperidol (Haldol) or clozapine (Clozaril), aren't appropriate for preventing or routinely treating delirium in hospitalized patients, a new study suggests.

    The researchers reviewed past studies and found that antipsychotic drugs given before surgery didn't prevent delirium. These drugs also didn't make any difference in the course of delirium in medical or surgical patients, the study authors said.

    "The American Geriatrics Society guidelines suggest avoiding using these medications as a part of routine care of a patient with delirium," said lead researcher Dr. Karin Neufeld, clinical director of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore.

    Delirium causes confused thinking and diminished awareness of the environment, such as time and place. Delirium is often caused by physical or mental illness, such as drug abuse or an electrolyte imbalance. Delirium is usually temporary and reversible.

    Antipsychotic drugs are routinely used to treat delirium. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't specifically approved their use for treating the condition.

    However, antipsychotics can be used for limited periods for treating specific symptoms, such as distressing hallucinations, or "when the patient's life or safety are at risk due to severe agitation," Neufeld said.

    Treating delirium without drugs has also been shown to be successful, she added.

    "Interventions, such as getting the patient out of bed and engaging in physical activity, can be first-line approaches to treating delirium," Neufeld said. "These non-drug types of treatments have been shown to decrease delirium in hospitalized patients and we should incorporate them into our practices," she suggested.

    For the new study, Neufeld and colleagues reviewed data from 19 previously published studies. Seven of the studies looked specifically at preventing delirium after surgery. The studies compared antipsychotics with placebo pills or no treatment. The researchers found antipsychotics didn't reduce the risk of delirium.

    Pooling data from all 19 studies that included medical and surgical patients, Neufeld's team found that antipsychotics didn't alter how long patients suffered from delirium. The drugs also didn't reduce the severity of delirium. And giving people antipsychotics didn't change how long a patient stayed in the hospital, or if a patient died, the study authors reported.

    Today on WebMD

    Differences between feeling depressed or feeling blue.
    lunar eclipse
    Signs of mania and depression.
    man screaming
    Causes, symptoms, and therapies.
    woman looking into fridge
    When food controls you.
    Woman standing in grass field barefoot, wind blowi
    senior man eating a cake
    woman reading medicine warnings
    depressed young woman
    man with arms on table
    man cringing and covering ears

    WebMD Special Sections