Excited delirium syndrome (ExDS): Defining based on a review of the Literature

Gary M. Vilke, Mark L. Debard, Theodore C. Chan, Jeffrey D. Ho, Donald M. Dawes, Christine Hall, Michael D. Curtis, Melissa Wysong Costello, Deborah C. Mash, Stewart R. Coffman, Mary Jo McMullen, Jeffery C. Metzger, James R. Roberts, Matthew D. Sztajnkrcer, Sean O. Henderson, Jason Adler, Fabrice Czarnecki, Joseph Heck, William P. Bozeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Scopus citations


Background: Patients present to police, Emergency Medical Services, and the emergency department with aggressive behavior, altered sensorium, and a host of other signs that may include hyperthermia, "superhuman" strength, diaphoresis, and lack of willingness to yield to overwhelming force. A certain percentage of these individuals will go on to expire from a sudden cardiac arrest and death, despite optimal therapy. Traditionally, the forensic community would often classify these as "Excited Delirium" deaths. Objectives: This article will review selected examples of the literature on this topic to determine if it is definable as a discrete medical entity, has a recognizable history, epidemiology, clinical presentation, pathophysiology, and treatment recommendations. Discussion: Excited delirium syndrome is characterized by delirium, agitation, acidosis, and hyperadrenergic autonomic dysfunction, typically in the setting of acute-on-chronic drug abuse or serious mental illness or a combination of both. Conclusions: Based upon available evidence, it is the consensus of an American College of Emergency Physicians Task Force that Excited Delirium Syndrome is a real syndrome with uncertain, likely multiple, etiologies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)897-905
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2012


  • agitated delirium
  • excited delirium
  • in-custody death
  • restraint
  • sudden death

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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