Delirium tremens is an extremely serious problem which can appear in an alcohol dependent patient during alcohol withdrawal. It requires rapid hospitalisation and emergency treatment. Agitation, shaking and terrifying hallucinations are the typical signs of delirium tremens. It may be necessary to temporarily physically restrain the patient. Death or serious neurological sequel occur in the absence of medical intervention.
These days, delirium tremens is rare, due to early treatment and improvement of alcoholic patients.
Characteristics of delirium tremens
Delirium tremens appears in the 48—96 hours after the last drink in patients whose degree of alcohol dependence is very high. Typically, it is shown by at least two of the following symptoms which are evidence of significant nervous system changes: mental confusion, abnormal perception (errors of interpretation, hallucinations), disruption of the sleep—wake cycle with insomnia or daytime sleepiness, increase or decrease in psychomotor activity, temporo-spatial disorientation, non recognition of close family and friends, memory problems, epilepsy, generalised convulsive seizures.
Immediately on arrival in hospital, the patient is rehydrated with large amounts of intravenous physiological fluids. Tranquillisers, hypnotics, neuroleptic sedatives and vitamins B are also administered. After treating the attack of delirium tremens, it is essential that the patient goes through a course of withdrawal treatment in an hospital environment.