Antipsychotics for treating delirium in hospitalized adults a systematic review

Roozbeh Nikooie, Karin J. Neufeld, Esther S. Oh, Lisa M. Wilson, Allen Zhang, Karen A. Robinson, Dale M. Needham

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Background: Delirium is common in hospitalized patients and is associated with worse outcomes. Antipsychotics are commonly used; however, the associated benefits and harms are unclear. Purpose: To conduct a systematic review evaluating the benefits and harms of antipsychotics to treat delirium in adults. Data Sources: PubMed, Embase, CENTRAL, CINAHL, and Psyc- INFO from inception to July 2019 without language restrictions. Study Selection: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of antipsychotic versus placebo or another antipsychotic, and prospective observational studies reporting harms. Data Extraction: One reviewer extracted data and assessed strength of evidence (SOE) for critical outcomes, with confirmation by another reviewer. Risk of bias was assessed independently by 2 reviewers. Data Synthesis: Across 16 RCTs and 10 observational studies of hospitalized adults, there was no difference in sedation status (low and moderate SOE), delirium duration, hospital length of stay (moderate SOE), or mortality between haloperidol and second-generation antipsychotics versus placebo. There was no difference in delirium severity (moderate SOE) and cognitive functioning (low SOE) for haloperidol versus second-generation antipsychotics, with insufficient or no evidence for antipsychotics versus placebo. For direct comparisons of different secondgeneration antipsychotics, there was no difference in mortality and insufficient or no evidence for multiple other outcomes. There was little evidence demonstrating neurologic harms associated with short-term use of antipsychotics for treating delirium in adult inpatients, but potentially harmful cardiac effects tended to occur more frequently. Limitations: Heterogeneity was present in terms of dose and administration route of antipsychotics, outcomes, and measurement instruments. There was insufficient or no evidence regarding multiple clinically important outcomes. Conclusion: Current evidence does not support routine use of haloperidol or second-generation antipsychotics to treat delirium in adult inpatients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)485-494
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of internal medicine
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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