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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Revisiting “Excited Delirium”: Does the Diagnosis Reflect and Promote Racial Bias?


Introduction: “Excited delirium” (ExD) is purported to represent a certain type of agitated state that can lead to unexpected death. The 2009 “White Paper Report on Excited Delirium Syndrome,” authored by the American College of Emergency Medicine (ACEP) Excited Delirium Task Force, continues to play a pivotal role in defining ExD. Since that report was produced, there has been an increasing appreciation that the label has been applied more often to Black people.

Methods: Our aim was to analyze the language of the 2009 report, the role of potential stereotypes, and the mechanisms that may potentially encourage bias.

Results: Our evaluation of the diagnostic criteria for ExD proposed in the 2009 report shows that it relies on persistent racial stereotypes: eg, unusual strength, decreased sensitivity to pain, and bizarre behavior. Research indicates that use of such stereotypes could encourage biased diagnosis and treatment.

Conclusion: We suggest that the emergency medicine community avoid use of the concept ExD and that ACEP withdraw implicit or explicit support of the report.

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