Am Heart J. 2021 Feb;232:164-176. doi: 10.1016/j.ahj.2020.11.011. Epub 2020 Nov 28.
Delirium is a frequent complication in patients admitted to intensive cardiac care units (ICCU) with potentially severe consequences including increased risks of mortality, cognitive impairment and dependence at discharge, and longer times on mechanical ventilation and hospital stay. Delirium has been widely documented and studied in general intensive care units and in patients after cardiac surgery, but it has barely been studied in acute nonsurgical cardiac patients. Moreover, delirium (especially in its hypoactive form) is commonly misdiagnosed. We propose a protocol for delirium prevention and management in ICCUs. A daily comprehensive assessment to improve detection should be done using validated scales (ie, confusion assessment method). Preventive measures are particularly relevance and constitute the basis of treatment as well, acting on reversible risk factors, including environmental interventions, such as quiet time, sleep promotion, family support, communication, and adequate treatment of pain and dyspnea. Pharmacological prophylaxis is not indicated with the exception of patients at risk of withdrawal syndrome but should only be used in patients with confirmed delirium. Dexmedetomidine is the drug of choice in patients with severe agitation, and those weaning from invasive mechanical ventilation. As the complexity of ICCUs increases, clinical scenarios posing challenges for the management of delirium become more frequent. Efforts should be done to improve the identification of patients at risk during admission in order to establish preventive interventions to avoid this complication. Patient-centered protocols will increase the awareness of the healthcare professionals for better prevention and earlier diagnosis and will positively impact on prognosis.