Haldol v Olanzapine in the ICU for treatment of delirium

In the ICU this month, I’ve been frequently running into the problem of patients who become delirious and agitated during their ICU course. This syndrome has been associated in multiple studies with increased mortality, and in my experience seems to often result in secondary harms such as oversedation, and even re-intubation / mechanical ventilation, which is itself associated with mortality. We are frequently advised against using benzodiazepines in these patients for sedation, given the association between the use of benzos and ICU-acquired delirium. We are then left with very few effective treatments for agitated delirium — many turn to Seroquel, some like the old standby of Haloperidol, and recently I was asked whether there was any evidence about using the newer, increasingly-popular atypical agent Olanzapine.

In this study by Skrobik et al from an ICU in Montreal, a relatively small number (73) of patients were enrolled in an RCT comparing treatment with Haldol to treatment with Olanzapine. The end result was that improvement in delirium symptoms was essentially the same. Haldo was often given early as an IV dose (despite the lack of FDA approval, though this study was done in Canada) and subsequently as enteral medications. They didn’t have IV Olanzapine, so this was always given PO/FT. The only significantly different endpoint between the two groups was the rate of extrapyramidal symptoms, which occured in 6 of the patients receiving Haldol and none of the patients receiving Olanzapine.

Downsides of this study included asymmetric distribution between the groups and a lack of blinding, alongside the small sample size. That said, I think this showed that for patients with a contraindication to the use of Haldol, Olanzapine seems to be effective at reducing delirium symptoms. Further research is needed into delirium generally, especially into coming up with effective treatments for delirium that we failed to prevent the development of.


Skrobik YK1, Bergeron N, Dumont M, Gottfried SB. Olanzapine vs haloperidol: treating delirium in a critical care setting. Intensive Care Med. 2004 Mar;30(3):444-9. PMID: 14685663. [PubMed] [Read by QxMD]

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