An exercise in futility
It's one of the most frightening and increasingly common hospital conditions--and a new study shows that a drug used to treat it can actually make it worse.
And if you've spent any time in a hospital lately, maybe it's been given to you.
The condition is delirium, a frightening lapse of sanity that affects a growing number of hospital patients--especially seniors and intensive care patients.
The drug is rivastigmine, a powerful med typically given to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients, now used increasingly off-label to treat delirium.
Here's the problem: Delirium is often caused by all the drugs pumped into hospital patients. Adding another one to the mix--especially a brain-altering med such as rivastigmine--isn't a solution.
It's adding gasoline to a raging fire.
But since delirium often shares many of the symptoms of dementia--memory and recognition problems, disassociation and hallucinations--many docs probably figure they can just throw a dementia drug at the condition and hope it goes away.
Researchers gave 104 delirium patients in intensive care units who were over 18 years old either rivastigmine or a placebo. They found that those who were given the placebo recovered from delirium after an average of three days-- but those who took the drug battled the condition for five days.
That's two extra days of pure hell.
The researchers had planned to recruit more than 400 patients for the trial, but cut the study off after they also noticed a higher-than-expected death rate among those taking the drug.
They wrote in The Lancet that the deaths were not "statistically significant," but the fact that they had to cut the study short because of them says a lot more than the statistics.
Delirium is rapidly turning into one of the biggest problems facing hospitals. By some estimates, up to 80 percent of all intensive care patients and a third of all hospitalized seniors suffer from it.
As I told you over the summer, the problem is so bad that one doctor at a leading hospital said they'd have to add 100 floors if they hoped to treat all their delirium patients. (Click here to read the story.)
She was exaggerating. Probably.
But if docs keep giving patients meds that make the condition last longer, they really will need those 100 extra floors.
And maybe a few more.
About the author
Edward Martin writes House Calls, a daily letter chronicling the most cutting-edge alternative methods for beating diabetes and cancer, to the latest FDA foul-ups and Big Pharma conspiracies.
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