Delirium Tremens

(DTs)

Definition

Delirium tremens (DTs) is a severe disturbance of the brain caused by alcohol withdrawal.
Adult Brain
Brain Man Face
The sudden withdrawal or decrease of alcohol can cause severe disturbances in the brain.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

DTs occur when a person who repeatedly drinks large amounts of alcohol suddenly stops or decreases the amount of alcohol consumed.

Risk Factors

These factors increase your chance of developing DTs:
  • History of heavy alcohol use and abuse
  • History of DTs or other withdrawal symptoms
  • Other medical problems in addition to alcohol abuse

Symptoms

Symptoms usually begin 3-7 days after suddenly stopping or decreasing alcohol intake. Symptoms may include:
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Changing levels of alertness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Bad dreams
  • Severe agitation
  • Fever
  • Hallucinations—the perception of a thing, voice, or person that is not present, both visual and auditory
  • Delusions—a false belief that is strongly held
  • Tremors of the hands, head, or body
  • Severe sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Rapid breathing
  • Seizures
In severe cases, DTs can result in death, especially if untreated.

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis of DTs is usually based on the symptoms and signs of the disorder after stopping alcohol use. Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests. Your brain activity may be tested. This can be done with an electroencephalogram (EEG). Images of your internal body structures can be taken with:

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