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Postoperative delirium. Part 1: pathophysiology and risk factors.
European Journal of Anaesthesiology
Delirium presents clinically with differing subtypes ranging from hyperactive to hypoactive. The clinical presentation is not clearly linked to specific pathophysiological mechanisms. Nevertheless, there seem to be different mechanisms that lead to delirium; for example the mechanisms leading to alcohol-withdrawal delirium are different from those responsible for postoperative delirium. In many forms of delirium, the brain's reaction to a peripheral inflammatory process is considered to be a pathophysiological key element and the aged brain seems to react more markedly to a peripheral inflammatory stimulus than a younger brain. The effects of inflammatory mediators on the brain include changes in neurotransmission and apoptosis. On a neurotransmitter level, impaired cholinergic transmission and disturbances of the intricate interactions between dopamine, serotonin and acetylcholine seem to play an important role in the development of delirium. The risk factors for delirium are categorised as predisposing or precipitating factors. In the presence of many predisposing factors, even trivial precipitating factors may trigger delirium, whereas in patients without or with only a few predisposing factors, a major precipitating insult is necessary to trigger delirium. Well documented predisposing factors are age, medical comorbidities, cognitive, functional, visual and hearing impairment and institutional residence. Important precipitating factors apart from surgery are admission to an ICU, anticholinergic drugs, alcohol or drug withdrawal, infections, iatrogenic complications, metabolic derangements and pain. Scores to predict the risk of delirium based on four or five risk factors have been validated in surgical patients.
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