Understanding international differences in terminology for delirium and other types of acute brain dysfunction in critically ill patients

A. Morandi, P. Pandharipande, M. Trabucchi, R. Rozzini, G. Mistraletti, A. C. Trompeo, C. Gregoretti, L. Gattinoni, M. V. Ranieri, L. Brochard, D. Annane, C. Putensen, U. Guenther, P. Fuentes, E. Tobar, A. R. Anzueto, A. Esteban, Y. Skrobik, J. I.F. Salluh, M. SoaresC. Granja, A. Stubhaug, S. E. De Rooij, E. Wesley Ely

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

133 Scopus citations


Background: Delirium (acute brain dysfunction) is a potentially life threatening disturbance in brain function that frequently occurs in critically ill patients. While this area of brain dysfunction in critical care is rapidly advancing, striking limitations in use of terminology related to delirium internationally are hindering cross-talk and collaborative research. In the English literature, synonyms of delirium such as the Intensive Care Unit syndrome, acute brain dysfunction, acute brain failure, psychosis, confusion, and encephalopathy are widely used. This often leads to scientific "confusion" regarding published data and methodology within studies, which is further exacerbated by organizational, cultural and language barriers. Objective: We undertook this multinational effort to identify conflicts in terminology and phenomenology of delirium to facilitate communication across medical disciplines and languages. Methods: The evaluation of the terminology used for acute brain dysfunction was determined conducting communications with 24 authors from academic communities throughout countries/regions that speak the 13 variants of the Romanic languages included into this manuscript. Results: In the 13 languages utilizing Romanic characters, included in this report, we identified the following terms used to define major types of acute brain dysfunction: coma, delirium, delirio, delirium tremens, délire, confusion mentale, delir, delier, Durchgangs-Syndrom, acute verwardheid, intensiv-psykose, IVA-psykos, IVA-syndrom, akutt konfusion/forvirring. Interestingly two terms are very consistent: 100 % of the selected languages use the term coma or koma to describe patients unresponsive to verbal and/or physical stimuli, and 100% use delirium tremens to define delirium due to alcohol withdrawal. Conversely, only 54% use the term delirium to indicate the disorder as defined by the DSM-IV as an acute change in mental status, inattention, disorganized thinking and altered level of consciousness. Conclusions: Attempts towards standardization in terminology, or at least awareness of differences across languages and specialties, will help cross-talk among clinicians and researchers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1907-1915
Number of pages9
JournalIntensive care medicine
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2008


  • Acute brain dysfunction
  • Acute verwardheid
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Confusione
  • Delier
  • Delir
  • Delire
  • Delirio
  • Delirium
  • Delirium tremens
  • Durchgangs-Syndrom
  • Délire
  • Psychosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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