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Neither typical antipsychotics (haloperidol) or newer antipsychotics (ziprasidone) were effective in treating delirium in critically ill patients, in a major randomized trial. The results call into question widely used pharmacologic treatments for ICU delirium.
Authors enrolled 1,183 adult patients at medical or surgical ICUs at 16 U.S. medical centers who developed delirium while critically ill (on ventilators, BiPAP, vasopressors, or with an intra-aortic balloon pump). Delirium was identified with the CAM-ICU screen.
The delirious ICU patients were randomized to receive either haloperidol (up to 20 mg IV once daily), ziprasidone (40 mg daily), or placebo, for 14 days.
Patients in all three arms had statistically equivalent days free of delirium or coma (about 8 days). The results were reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Secondary endpoints -- length of stay in the ICU and hospital; ventilator-free days; or mortality at 30 and 90 days -- were not statistically different either.
Patients receiving antipsychotics did not have significant increases in excessive sedation compared to placebo. More patients receiving ziprasidone experienced prolonged QT intervals on electrocardiogram.
Treatment with antipsychotics was not obviously harmful, and their use in the ICU is justified occasionally, according to an editorialist:
There will still be some appropriate use of antipsychotics in the ICU, but it is for difficult to control patients who are being dangerous to themselves or others, and the antipsychotic meds can help with symptom control without suppressing respirations, so that can be very clinically helpful and safe."
Prophylactic dexmedetomidine (Precedex) did reduce the incidence of ICU delirium in a randomized trial. There are currently over 90 studies planned or in process exploring the role of so-called "Dex" for the prevention or treatment of delirium.
Study authors used the negative trial results to encourage the use of the so-called ABCDEF bundle, promoted by a major professional society in critical care. It includes sedation interruptions, spontaneous breathing trials, delirium assessments, lightest-reasonable sedation, early mobility, and involving patients' families, and its implementation is associated with better ICU outcomes.