Atypical Antipsychotics versus Haloperidol for Treatment of Delirium in Acutely Ill Patients


School of Pharmacy, University of Pittsburgh, 302 Scaife Hall, 200 Lothrop Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15213; e-mail:


Delirium is common in acutely ill patients and can result in substantial morbidity if left untreated. Atypical antipsychotics have been postulated to be safer and more effective than haloperidol for treatment of this condition. To evaluate the role of atypical antipsychotics versus haloperidol for treatment of delirium in hospitalized acutely ill adults, we searched MEDLINE (1977–September 2006) and International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (1997–September 2006) for English-language publications of clinical trials that compared atypical antipsychotics and haloperidol. Four comparative studies were identified: one double-blind, randomized study (risperidone vs haloperidol), one single-blind, randomized study (olanzapine vs haloperidol), and two retrospective studies (olanzapine vs haloperidol and quetiapine vs haloperidol). These studies demonstrated that atypical antipsychotics are as efficacious as haloperidol. In addition, they appear to be associated with a lower frequency of extrapyramidal effects, and thus are safer than haloperidol. However, these conclusions are based on a limited number of studies; larger comparative trials are needed to elucidate the role of atypical antipsychotics for treating delirium in this population.