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What is delirium tremens

Delirium Tremens (DT) is an illness associated with acute alcohol withdrawal for people who have suffered a prolonged period of alcoholism. Chronic alcoholic consumption over a prolonged period of time increases the release of several chemicals inside the brain such as GABA. When a chronic alcoholic ceases to drink alcohol, the alcoholic’s brain will reduce the amount of GABA it produces. As a knock on effect, the brain also reduces the amount of chloride it produces. It is thought this associated reduction in chloride synthesis within the brain is the chief cause of unpleasant symptoms associated with Delirium Tremens.

Symptoms of Delirium Tremens

Common symptoms associated with the condition include:

  • Nightmares
  • Hallucinations (both visual and auditory)
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Perspiration
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Heightened heart rate
  • Tremors

The above symptoms typically manifest within two to three days after the patient ceases to drink alcohol. The symptoms tend to peak within five to seven days following the last alcoholic beverage. Survivors recount visions of insects and rodents crawling across their bodies, a phenomena known as ‘formication’. Sufferers also tend to feel a sense of ‘impending doom’ as the symptoms of delirium tremens peak.

If you experience a bout of delirium tremens following withdrawal from alcohol and you seek out medical treatment your mortality rate hovers at around 15 %. In contrast, if you fail to receive medical attention the mortality rate jumps to 35%. A heightened heart rate and blood pressure can lead to complete cardiovascular collapse and/or respiratory failure as a result of the symptoms associated with delirium tremens.

Treatment of Delirium Tremens

The sufferer is often sedated for a period until symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal and Delirium Tremens have subsided. Benzodiazepines such as diazepam are usually the sedative of choice for Delirium Tremens treatment. Doses of thiamine, glucose, antipsychotics and insulin are typically administered into sufferers’ bloodstream by way of injection. Treatment typically takes place in an inpatient setting rather than within the community.

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