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Critical Care

Open Access

Effect of rivastigmine as an adjunct to usual care with haloperidol on duration of delirium and mortality in critically ill patients: a multicentre, double-blind, placebo-controlled randomised trial

  • MM Van Eijk1,
  • KC Roes1,
  • ML Honing2,
  • MA Kuiper3,
  • A Karakus4,
  • M Van der JAgt5,
  • PE Spronk6,
  • WA Van Gool7,
  • RC Van der Mast8,
  • J Kesecioglu1 and
  • AJ Slooter1
Critical Care201115(Suppl 1):P339

Published: 1 March 2011


PlaceboPlacebo GroupHaloperidolUsual CareStudy Drug


Delirium is frequently diagnosed in critically ill patients and is associated with adverse outcome. Impaired cholinergic neurotransmission seems to have an important role in the development of delirium. We aimed to establish the effect of the cholinesterase inhibitor rivastigmine on the duration of delirium in critically ill patients.


Patients (aged ≥18 years) who were diagnosed with delirium were enrolled from six ICUs in the Netherlands, and treated between November 2008 and January 2010. Patients were randomised (1:1 ratio) to receive an increasing dose of rivastigmine or placebo, starting at 0.75 ml (1.5 mg rivastigmine) twice daily and increasing in increments to 3 ml (6 mg rivastigmine) twice daily from day 10 onwards, as an adjunct to usual care based on haloperidol. The trial pharmacist generated the randomisation sequence by computer, and consecutively numbered bottles of the study drug according to this sequence to conceal allocation. The primary outcome was the duration of delirium during hospital admission. Analysis was by intention to treat. Duration of delirium was censored for patients who died or were discharged from hospital while delirious. Patients, medical staff, and investigators were masked to treatment allocation. Members of the data safety and monitoring board (DSMB) were unmasked and did interim analyses every 3 months.


Although a sample size of 440 patients was planned, after inclusion of 104 patients with delirium who were eligible for the intention-to-treat analysis (n = 54 on rivastigmine, n = 50 on placebo), the DSMB recommended that the trial be halted because mortality in the rivastigmine group (n = 12, 22%) was higher than in the placebo group (n = 4, 8%; P = 0.07). Median duration of delirium was longer in the rivastigmine group (5.0 days, IQR 2.7 to 14.2) than in the placebo group (3.0 days, IQR 1.0 to 9.3; P = 0.06).


Rivastigmine did not decrease duration of delirium and might have increased mortality so we do not recommend use of rivastigmine to treat delirium in critically ill patients.



This trial is registered with, number NCT00704301. Funded by ZonMw, the Netherlands Brain Foundation, and Novartis.

Authors’ Affiliations

University Medical Center Utrecht, the Netherlands
Medical Center Alkmaar, the Netherlands
Medical Center Leeuwarden, the Netherlands
Diakonessenhuis Utrecht, the Netherlands
Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Gelre Hospitals, Apeldoorn, the Netherlands
Academic Medical Center, Apeldoorn, the Netherlands
Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, the Netherlands


© Van Eijk et al. 2011

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.