Electroencephalography of mechanically ventilated patients at high risk of delirium



Neurophysiological exploration of ICU delirium is limited. Here, we examined EEG characteristics of medical-surgical critically ill patients with new-onset altered consciousness state at high risk for ICU delirium.

Materials and methods

Pre-planned analysis of non-neurological mechanically ventilated medical-surgical ICU subjects, who underwent a prospective multicenter randomized, controlled EEG study (NCT03129438, April 2017–November 2018). EEG characteristics, according to the 2012 ACNS nomenclature, included background activity, rhythmic periodic patterns/epileptic activity, amplitude, frequency, stimulus-induced discharges, triphasic waves, reactivity, and NREM sleep. We explored EEG findings in delirious versus non-delirious patients, specifically focusing on the presence of burst-suppression and rhythmic periodic patterns (ictal-interictal continuum), and ictal activity.


We analyzed 91 patients (median age, 66 years) who underwent EEG because of new-onset altered consciousness state at a median 5 days from admission; 42 patients developed delirium (46%). Burst-suppression (10 vs 0%, p = .02), rhythmic/periodic patterns (43% vs 22%, p = .03) and epileptiform activity (7 vs 0%, p = .05) were more frequent in delirious versus non-delirious patients. The presence of at least one of these abnormal EEG findings (32/91 patients; 35%) was associated with a significant increase in the likelihood of delirium (42 vs 15%, p = .006). Cumulative dose of sedatives and analgesics, as well as all other EEG characteristics, did not differ significantly between the two groups.


In mechanically ventilated non-neurological critically ill patients with new-onset alteration of consciousness, EEG showing burst-suppression, rhythmic or periodic patterns, or seizures/status epilepticus indicate an increased risk of ICU delirium.

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