Home | About IPJ | Editorial board | Ahead of print | Current Issue | Archives | Instructions | Contact us |   Login 
Industrial Psychiatry Journal
Search Articles   
Advanced search   

Year : 2010  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 58-59  Table of Contents     

Use of propofol as adjuvant therapy in refractory delirium tremens

1 Department of Pharmacology, Adesh Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Bathinda, India
2 Department of Medicine, Adesh Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Bathinda, India
3 Department of Psychiatry, Adesh Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Bathinda, India
4 Department of Anaesthesia and Critical Care, Adesh Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Bathinda, India

Date of Web Publication16-Mar-2011

Correspondence Address:
Rajiv Mahajan
Department of Pharmacology, Adesh Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Bathinda - 151 109
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-6748.77641

Rights and Permissions

Delirium tremens is recognized as a potentially fatal and debilitating complication of alcohol withdrawal. Use of sedatives, particularly benzodiazepines, is the cornerstone of therapy for delirium tremens. But sometimes, very heavy doses of benzodiazepines are required to control delirious symptoms. We are reporting one such case of delirium tremens, which required very heavy doses of benzodiazepines and was ultimately controlled by using infusion of propofol. Thus propofol should always be considered as an option to treat patients with resistant delirium tremens.

Keywords: Alcohol withdrawal, delirium tremens, propofol, sedatives

How to cite this article:
Mahajan R, Singh R, Bansal PD, Bala R. Use of propofol as adjuvant therapy in refractory delirium tremens. Ind Psychiatry J 2010;19:58-9

How to cite this URL:
Mahajan R, Singh R, Bansal PD, Bala R. Use of propofol as adjuvant therapy in refractory delirium tremens. Ind Psychiatry J [serial online] 2010 [cited 2023 Jan 31];19:58-9. Available from: https://www.industrialpsychiatry.org/text.asp?2010/19/1/58/77641

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the acute-care setting. [1] The spectrum of AWS ranges from minor symptoms such as insomnia and tremulousness to severe complications such as withdrawal seizures and delirium tremens. [2] Delirium tremens, the most serious manifestation of alcohol withdrawal, occurs in approximately 5% of hospitalized alcoholics, and a mortality rate approaching 15% has been reported. [3] Current diagnostic criteria for delirium tremens include disturbance of consciousness, change in cognition or perceptual disturbance developing in a short period, and the emergence of symptoms during, or shortly after, withdrawal from heavy alcohol intake. With the advances in the treatment modalities, the mortality rate has dropped to almost 0%-1% in some centers. [4]

Most patients undergoing alcohol withdrawal can be treated safely and effectively as outpatients. Pharmacotherapy involves the use of drugs that are cross-tolerant with alcohol. [5] Benzodiazepines, the agents of choice, may be administered on a fixed schedule or the one based on triggering of symptoms. [6] Carbamazepine is an appropriate alternative to a benzodiazepine in the treatment of outpatients with mild-to-moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Medications such as haloperidol, beta blockers, clonidine and phenytoin may be used as adjuncts to a benzodiazepine. [2]

Of late, propofol has also been used as adjuvant to control refractory delirium tremens due to acute alcohol withdrawal. [3],[7],[8] But all reports on the use of propofol have emerged from abroad. No case of delirium tremens due to alcohol withdrawal, treated with propofol has been reported in India. Here, we are reporting a case of refractory delirium tremens treated with infusion of propofol.

   Case Report Top

A 32-year-old man with a history of alcohol abuse was admitted to the general medical unit because of altered mental status and agitation. He had complaints of repeated episodes of vomiting, tremors, passing highly colored urine and loss of appetite. He had no significant past history of medical/ surgical illness. He was a heavy alcoholic for the last 8 years; and 3 days back, he had taken some medicine from a de-addiction center in his village, but the identity of those medicines could not be ascertained. On examination, his conjunctivae were pale; he was anxious and had tremors. His blood pressure was 110/74, pulse rate was 94 and respiratory rate was 20 per minute. Abdominal examination revealed hepatomegaly. Biochemical investigations including liver function tests [serum glutamic oxaloacetic transaminase (SGOT), 126 IU; serum glutamic pyruvic transaminase (SGPT), 118 IU] and lipid profile [Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), 201 mg/dL; total glycerides (TGs), 186 mg/dL; total cholesterol, 498 mg/dL] were deranged. He had normal coagulation profile, normal renal function and serum electrolytes. HBsAg, Anti-HCV and HIV-ELISA were negative. Ultrasonography of the abdomen showed diffuse fatty liver with hepatomegaly (liver size, 19.8 cm).

In the ward, he was started on intravenous thiamine along with dextrose infusion, metoclopramide and pantoprazole. His minor withdrawal symptoms were controlled by giving lorazepam 5 mg on day 1. As his condition deteriorated, diazepam and lorazepam injections were also added. As on the 3 rd day, delirious symptoms appeared, the patient was shifted to the intensive care unit (ICU). Due to poor response to benzodiazepines; propofol infusion was started. He was maintained on continuous infusion of propofol and lorazepam with intermittent boluses of diazepam and midazolam [Table 1].
Table 1: Sedative doses used to treat delirium tremens (up to day 7)

Click here to view

Patient was intubated and placed on mechanical ventilation. His sedation level was monitored using Richmond Agitation Sedation Scale (RASS). [9] Subsequently his condition improved, and he got extubated on the 8 th day and was transferred back to the general medical ward on oral diazepam and thiamine, which had been started in the ICU. He was discharged after another 5 days and was referred to institutional rehabilitation center.

   Discussion Top

Cases of alcohol-withdrawal-induced delirium tremens requiring heavy doses of sedatives are common. Cases requiring heavy sedations/ benzodiazepines have been reported earlier also. [10],[11] Propofol has also been used earlier to control delirious symptoms, as an adjuvant. [3],[7],[8] But in India, there is no documented proof of use of propofol for this condition. The clinical utility of benzodiazepines is limited by their stimulation of the g-aminobutyric acid receptors - an effect not shared by propofol, an anesthetic agent that induces a state of cooperative and conscious sedation. Thus in patients requiring high doses of sedatives for the treatment of delirium tremens, propofol should be considered as an option for adjuvant therapy; although the side effects of high-dose propofol infusion, viz., hypertriglyceridemia, acute pancreatitis, increased risk of infection and metabolic acidosis, should always be kept in mind while using propofol infusion for refractory delirium tremens.

   References Top

1.Hayner CE, Wuestefeld NL, Bolton PJ. Phenobarbital treatment in a patient with resistant alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Pharmacotherapy 2009;29:875-8.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Bayard M, McIntyre J, Hill KR, Woodside J Jr. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Am Fam Physician 2004;69:1443-50.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.McCowan C, Marik P. Refractory delirium tremens treated with propofol: A case series. Crit Care Med 2000;28:1781-4.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Kress JP, Hall JB. Delirium and sedation. Crit Care Clin 2004;20:419-33.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Mayo-Smith MF, Beecher LH, Fischer TL, Gorelick DA, Guillaume JL, Hill A, et al. Management of alcohol withdrawal delirium: An evidence-based practice guideline. Arch Intern Med 2004;164:1405-12.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.DeCarolis DD, Rice KL, Ho L, Willenbring ML, Cassaro S. Symptom-driven lorazepam protocol for treatment of severe alcohol withdrawal delirium in the intensive care unit. Pharmacotherapy 2007;27:510-8.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Takeshita J. Use of propofol for alcohol withdrawal delirium: A case report. J Clin Psychiatry 2004;65:134-5.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Lappin R. Propofol in delirium tremens. Ann Emerg Med 1998;32:271-2.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Sessler CN, Gosnell MS, Grap MJ, Brophy GM, O'Neal PV, Keane KA, et al. The Richmond Agitation-Sedation Scale: Validity and reliability in adult intensive care unit patients. Am J Respir Care Med 2002;166:1338-44.  Back to cited text no. 9
10.Nolop KB, Natow A. Unprecedented sedative requirements during delirium tremens. Crit Care Med 1985;13:246-7.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Wolf KM, Shaughnessy AF, Middleton DB. Prolonged delirium tremens requiring massive doses of medication. J Am Board Fam Pract 1993;6:502-4.  Back to cited text no. 11


  [Table 1]

This article has been cited by
1 The Missing Piece? A Case for Microglia’s Prominent Role in the Therapeutic Action of Anesthetics, Ketamine, and Psychedelics
Jared VanderZwaag, Torin Halvorson, Kira Dolhan, Eva Šimoncicová, Benneth Ben-Azu, Marie-Čve Tremblay
Neurochemical Research. 2022;
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
2 Perioperative management of patients with concomitant alcohol dependence. Guidelines
I.B. Zabolotskikh, A.A. Belkin, A.V. Butrov, E.S. Gorobec, E.V. Grigoriev, A.N. Kuzovlev, K.M. Lebedinskii, A.Yu. Lubnin, A.E. Muronov, A.M. Ovezov, A.M. Ovechkin, R.V. Shadrin, A.V. Shchegolev
Anesteziologiya i reanimatologiya. 2022; (4): 5
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
3 Delirium Research in India: A Systematic Review
Sandeep Grover, Sanjana Kathiravan, Devakshi Dua
Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice. 2021; 12(02): 236
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
4 Evaluation of a Symptom-triggered Protocol for Alcohol Withdrawal for Use in the Emergency Department, General Medical Wards, and Intensive Care Unit
Journal of Psychiatric Practice. 2019; 25(1): 63
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
5 The emergency medicine management of severe alcohol withdrawal
Drew Long,Brit Long,Alex Koyfman
The American Journal of Emergency Medicine. 2017;
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
6 Propofol for Treatment of Refractory Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: A Review of the Literature
Amy L. Brotherton,Eric P. Hamilton,H. Grace Kloss,Drayton A. Hammond
Pharmacotherapy: The Journal of Human Pharmacology and Drug Therapy. 2016; 36(4): 433
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
7 Are Alcohol Anti-relapsing and Alcohol Withdrawal Drugs Useful in Cannabinoid Users?
Patrycja Kleczkowska,Irena Smaga,Malgorzata Filip,Magdalena Bujalska-Zadrozny
Neurotoxicity Research. 2016;
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
8 Treatment of Severe Alcohol Withdrawal
Kyle J. Schmidt,Mitesh R. Doshi,Jenna M. Holzhausen,Allycia Natavio,Megan Cadiz,Jim E. Winegardner
Annals of Pharmacotherapy. 2016; 50(5): 389
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
9 Use of Propofol-Containing Versus Benzodiazepine Regimens for Alcohol Withdrawal Requiring Mechanical Ventilation
Rose Sohraby,Rebecca L. Attridge,Darrel W. Hughes
Annals of Pharmacotherapy. 2014; 48(4): 456
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
10 Repetitive Myocardial Infarctions Secondary to Delirium Tremens
David Schwartzberg,Adam Shiroff
Case Reports in Critical Care. 2014; 2014: 1
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
11 A case of prolonged delirium tremens
J Nicholas,R Jacob,R Kinson
Singapore Medical Journal. 2013; 54(8): e152
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
12 Alcohol withdrawal delirium - diagnosis, course and treatment
Barbora Mainerova,Jan Prasko,Klara Latalova,Karel Axmann,Monika Cerna,Rostislav Horacek,Romana Bradacova
Biomedical Papers. 2013;
[Pubmed] | [DOI]


    Access Statistics
    Email Alert *
    Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  

  In this article
    Case Report
    Article Tables

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded121    
    Comments [Add]    
    Cited by others 12    

Recommend this journal