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Delirium (PDQ®)

Patient Version
Last Modified: 12/12/2013

General Information About Delirium



Delirium is a confused mental state that causes changes in awareness and behavior.

Delirium is a confused mental state that can occur in patients who have cancer, especially advanced cancer. Patients with delirium have problems with the following:

  • Attention.
  • Thinking.
  • Awareness.
  • Behavior.
  • Emotions.
  • Judgement.
  • Memory.
  • Muscle control.
  • Sleeping and waking.

There are three types of delirium:

  • Hypoactive: The patient is not active and seems sleepy, tired, or depressed.
  • Hyperactive: The patient is restless or agitated.
  • Mixed: The patient changes back and forth between being hypoactive and hyperactive.

Delirium may come and go during the day.

The symptoms of delirium usually occur suddenly. They often occur within hours or days and may come and go. Delirium is often temporary and can be treated. However, in the last 24 to 48 hours of life, delirium may be permanent because of problems like organ failure. Most advanced cancer patients have delirium that occurs in the last hours to days before death.

This summary is about delirium in adults.