Intravenous Haloperidol Does Not Prevent ICU Delirium


Clinical question: Can haloperidol reduce delirium in critically ill patients if initiated early in ICU stay?

Background: Prior studies suggest antipsychotics reduce intensity and duration of delirium in hospitalized patients. Evidence is mixed for preventing delirium. A trial of risperidone demonstrated delirium rate reduction in coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) patients, but another trial of haloperidol in hip surgery patients failed to prevent onset of delirium. There is little evidence on antipsychotics in ICU delirium.

Study design: Randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial.

Setting: Single, adult ICU in England.

Synopsis: The study randomized 142 critically ill patients to receive 2.5 mg of intravenous haloperidol versus placebo every eight hours for up to 14 days. There was no significant difference between groups in the total time spent free of delirium or coma. Limitations include the use of open-label haloperidol in 21% of the placebo group patients. More sedation but less agitation was seen with the use of haloperidol, which also prolonged QTc. No severe adverse effects were observed.

This study supports the idea that scheduled antipsychotics should not be used to reduce ICU delirium. Addressing modifiable risk factors and using dexmedetomidine rather than lorazepam for sedation in the ICU continue to be first-line strategies to lower delirium rates.

Bottom line: Prophylactic haloperidol should not be used to prevent ICU delirium.

Citation: Page VJ, Ely EW, Gates S, et al. Effect of intravenous haloperidol on the duration of delirium and coma in critically ill patients (Hope-ICU): a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Lancet Respir Med. 2013;1(7):515-523.

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