Delirium and the Inflammatory ResponsePosted on Monday, September, 21st, 2015 by in Aging | Immune Homeostasis (Immune Balance) | Infections and Inflammatory Responses | Inflammation | Injury and Trauma
Delirium is an under-reported condition that may affect up to 56% of older individuals after surgery, patients that have been heavily sedated for a length of time, burn, cancer, and patients on ventilators for long periods. Patients experience vivid hallucinations that may be part of a vicious cycle if doctors attempt to control the delusions with larger amounts of sedatives; the medications may disorient and confuse the patient even more.
The delusions and accompanying cognitive issues can persist for months after patients leave the hospital and can lead to a misdiagnosis of dementia, rather than delirium. [Dementia develops gradually and gradually worsens, while delirium may be of sudden onset.]
Delirium is associated with excessive inflammation in the brain resulting from triggering specialized immune cells the microglia. If stimulated over a long time, the cells release inflammatory cytokines, molecules that damage nerve cells and contribute to damage and break down of the capillaries in the brain, the blood-brain barrier.
C-reactive protein, CRP, is one measure of inflammation. CRP levels were measured in elderly surgical patients who had ended up with complications such as delirium, cardiovascular issues, or infection. The levels of CRP in their blood were predictive as to how fully they recovered.
A recent study measured the levels of 12 different inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines in older patients undergoing surgery. Those having episodes of delirium had consistently high levels of inflammatory cytokines as compared to patients that did not have high levels of cytokines. Similar results were seen in patients that developed delirium after procedures such as open-heart surgery and hip fracture repair.
In order for the body to heal after it is hurt, or to fight an infection successfully, a delicate balance of cytokines, immune messages are required. Too little of an inflammatory response and the individual may not survive an infection. Too much of an inflammatory response and healthy tissue is destroyed. Homeostasis, balance, is what the body strives for every moment.
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