Delirium commonly manifests in the postoperative period as a clinical syndrome resulting from acute brain dysfunction or encephalopathy. Delirium is characterized by acute and often fluctuating changes in attention and cognition. Emergence delirium typically presents and resolves within minutes to hours after termination of general anaesthesia. Postoperative delirium hours to days after an invasive procedure can herald poor outcomes. Easily recognized when patients are hyperactive or agitated, delirium often evades diagnosis as it most frequently presents with hypoactivity and somnolence. EEG offers objective measurements to complement clinical assessment of this complex fluctuating disorder. Although EEG features of delirium in the postoperative period remain incompletely characterized, a shift of EEG power into low frequencies is a typical finding shared among encephalopathies that manifest with delirium. In aggregate, existing data suggest that serial or continuous EEG in the postoperative period facilitates monitoring of delirium development and severity and assists in detecting epileptic aetiologies. Future studies are needed to clarify the precise EEG features that can reliably predict or diagnose delirium in the postoperative period, and to provide mechanistic insights into this pathologically diverse neurological disorder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)294-307
Number of pages14
JournalBritish journal of anaesthesia
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017


  • delirium
  • electroencephalography
  • encephalopathy


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