Delirium Tremens: Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention


In 2018, The Basic Health Research said that 3% of Indonesians over the age of 10 consume alcohol. Surprisingly, the number of alcohol drinkersincreased during the pandemic. Quoted from the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry , the number of alcohol drinkers in 2020 has tripled compared to 2018.

Behind the pros and cons related to alcohol consumption, the journal Acta Neurologica Scandinavica confirms that the ethanol content in alcoholic beverages can trigger addiction in the brain. One of the deadliest effects is delirium tremens. Come on, broaden your horizons about this disease by reading the following article.

1. Cause

Reporting from the journal StatPearls in 2021, delirium tremens is a disturbance of consciousness and organ function due to sudden alcohol withdrawal in alcoholics. As an illustration according to the article “Delirium Tremens” published by WebMD, 5% of alcoholics can experience the deadly delirium tremens. How did this happen?

According to the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, the brains of alcoholics are used to getting excessively excited sensations from regular alcohol consumption habits. As a result, when stopped suddenly, the brain nerves will be overactive immediately. Because almost all of our organs are controlled by nerves, automatically the function of the body’s organs will also be disturbed.

2. Signs and symptoms

StatPearls states that symptoms of delirium tremens can appear within 6 hours of stopping alcohol consumption. Usually, the initial symptoms that appear are anxiety, difficulty sleeping, heart palpitations, nausea, vomiting and headaches. Mild symptoms of delirium tremens can go away on their own within 1-2 days.

According to a 2020 article from WebMD, delirium tremens can also cause severe symptoms and signs, such as:

Loss of consciousness
cold skin
Blood pressure is greatly increased
Electrolyte deficiency
Signs of severe infection (sepsis)

3. Diagnosis

Concluded from the writings of StatPearls and WebMD, the diagnosis of delirium tremens should be made based on the results of patient interviews and physical examinations. This case is an emergency case so that it must be handled as soon as possible. In some cases, the doctor may consider performing additional tests, such as:

alcohol as tes
Blood sugar test
electrolyte up to tes
Brain imaging exam
Brain recording test (electroencephalogram)

4. Handling

Various scientific sources suggest the administration of benzodiazepine drugs as the main therapy. Giving benzodiazepines according to the journal Acta Neurologica Scandinavica can reduce brain nerve activity and relieve patient anxiety. In addition, StatPearls recommends giving benzodiazepines in the form of injections in cases of delirium tremens, given their more rapid effect.

WebMD also warns of the importance of intravenous fluids to minimize fluid and electrolyte loss in delirium tremens. Other drugs (such as thiamin, sugar infusions, anti-hallucinations, and heart rate-lowering drugs) are only given when necessary.

Quoted from the WebMD page, patients with delirium tremens usually have to be hospitalized until their condition gradually stabilizes.

5. Prevention

Taking a quote from Healthline ‘s writing , the best way to prevent delirium tremens is not to consume alcohol at all or drink it in moderation.

You can also consult a doctor if you feel addicted to alcoholic beverages. In such cases, alcohol withdrawal should be done gradually by a doctor who specializes in substance addiction.

A scientific publication entitled ” Alcohol and delirium tremens: effects of average number of drinks per day and beverage type ” shows that delirium tremens is more common in alcohol consumption exceeding 20 drinks per day. This figure is far beyond the reasonable limit recommended by MayoClinic, which is 1-2 glasses per day.

The decision to consume or not consume alcohol is indeed a choice of each. However, you also have to stop if the habit is disturbing your mind, let alone threatening your own life.

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