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What Causes Delirium and Confusion? Find Out Here

Medically reviewed by Nicole Aliling, MD · Neurology · Centre Médicale Internationale

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated May 17, 2021

What Causes Delirium and Confusion? Find Out Here

Delirium, or deliryo, as it is commonly known in the Philippines, is a condition that people might have heard of, but are not familiar with. Here, we will be discussing what causes delirium and confusion, as well as the symptoms of this condition.

what causes delirium and confusion

What causes delirium and confusion?

One common figure of expression in the Philippines is “nagde-deliryo’ or being delirious. In this usage, it usually means that a person is confused, or is not in a right state of mind.

Medically speaking, delirium, means that a person is suffering from a serious mental disturbance. It could manifest in a person being confused or disoriented about their surroundings. Most of the time, people suffering from delirium also have no idea of what’s going on around them.

One important distinction to make is that delirium is not a disease. This means that a person suffering from delirium might be suffering from another problem that’s causing a change in their mental state.

Among the elderly, delirium can sometimes be mistaken for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. However, one big difference is that delirium usually happens quickly; it’s also usually reversible while dementia is not. It only takes a few hours or days for a person to have noticeable signs of delirium. In contrast, dementia can take months or years before the symptoms are noticed.

In terms of causes, a number of things are responsible for delirium. Here are some of those things:

Alcohol or drug withdrawal

One of the common causes of delirium is when a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol suddenly stops. This can potentially cause a reaction, which leads to delirium.

The reason behind this is that their body has gotten so used to the drugs and alcohol, that stopping it suddenly causes an adverse reaction. As a result, a person having withdrawals can suffer from seizures, and delirium. This can last the entire time that their body is undergoing withdrawals.

In particular, people who are experiencing alcohol withdrawals are more prone to having delirium.

Serious medical conditions

In some cases, serious medical conditions such as a heart attack, stroke, liver disease, or even a serious fall can cause delirium. The reason behind this is that sometimes these conditions can cause a decline in brain function.

Because of this, a person can suffer from delirium and confusion if their condition is particularly serious.

Low sodium levels

Having low sodium levels, or hyponatremia, can also cause delirium. When a person has hyponatremia, extra water in the body starts to get into the cells, causing them to swell up.

This also means that our brain cells or neurons start to swell because of hyponatremia. As a result, the brain pushes against the skull, and can cause serious damage.

Delirium us just one of the possible effects of hyponatremia. In particular, persons with hyponatremia can suffer from coma, or even death if their condition is not treated properly.  

Fever, especially in children


Children can also experience delirium if they have a particularly high fever. Fevers happen as a natural response of the immune system whenever a person gets sick. The increased temperature means that the body is trying to kill off whatever infection is making a person sick.

However, when the body temperature gets too high, the brain can also get affected. This can lead to cases wherein a person with high fever suffers from confusion, hallucination, and delirium.

For the most part, this type of delirium is temporary, and should go away once the person recovers.

Common Trangkaso Symptoms You Should Not Ignore

Sleep deprivation

Our bodies need an adequate amount of sleep each day. Ideally, we should be getting at 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.

However, if a person does not get enough sleep, it can cause delirium. The reason behind this is that our brains also need to take a break and rest. If we’re awake for long periods of time, such as more than three nights without sleep, we can experience delirium, or even hallucinations.


Lastly, severe pain can also cause delirium. In particular, elderly patients with dementia have been known to experience delirium when they are in severe pain. 

People who have serious illnesses and have severe pain can also experience delirium. This is the reason why some patients need to be sedated in order to help relieve their anxiety and agitation.

Key Takeaways

Delirium should always be taken seriously. Even if it is a temporary condition, there are cases where delirium or confusion causes long-term health effects for patients. This is why immediate treatment is necessary to help patients recover from whatever is causing their delirium as soon as possible.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Nicole Aliling, MD

Neurology · Centre Médicale Internationale

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated May 17, 2021

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