Skip to main content

Health Encyclopedia

Search the Health Encyclopedia

Agitation

Definition

Agitation is an unpleasant state of extreme arousal. An agitated person may feel stirred up, excited, tense, confused, or irritable.

Alternative Names

Restlessness

Considerations

Agitation can come on suddenly or over time. It can last for a few minutes, for weeks, or even months. Pain, stress, and fever can all increase agitation.

Agitation by itself may not be a sign of a health problem. But if other symptoms occur, it can be a sign of disease.

Agitation with a change in alertness (altered consciousness) can be a sign of delirium. Delirium has a medical cause and should be checked by a health care provider right away.

Causes

There are many causes of agitation. Some of them are:

  • Alcohol intoxication or withdrawal
  • Allergic reaction
  • Caffeine intoxication
  • Certain forms of heart, lung, liver, or kidney disease
  • Intoxication or withdrawal from drugs of abuse (such as cocaine, marijuana, hallucinogens, PCP, or opiates)
  • Hospitalization (older adults often have delirium while in the hospital)
  • Overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
  • Infection (especially in elderly people)
  • Nicotine withdrawal
  • Poisoning (for example, carbon monoxide poisoning)
  • Some medicines, including theophylline, amphetamines, and steroids
  • Trauma
  • Vitamin B6 deficiency

Agitation can occur with brain and mental health disorders, such as:

Home Care

The most important way to deal with agitation is to find and treat the cause. Agitation may lead to an increased risk of suicide and other forms of violence.

After treating the cause, the following measures can reduce agitation:

  • A calm environment
  • Enough lighting during the day and darkness at night
  • Medicines such as benzodiazepines, and in some cases, antipsychotics
  • Plenty of sleep

DO NOT physically hold back an agitated person, if possible. This usually makes the problem worse. Use restraints only if the person is at risk of harming themselves or others, and there is no other way to control the behavior.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your provider for agitation that:

  • Lasts a long time
  • Is very severe
  • Occurs with thoughts or actions of hurting yourself or others
  • Occurs with other, unexplained symptoms

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will take a medical history and do a physical examination. To better understand your agitation, your provider may ask you specific things about your agitation.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests (such as a blood count, infection screening, thyroid tests, or vitamin levels)
  • Head CT or head MRI scan
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
  • Urine tests (for infection screening, drug screening)
  • Vital signs (temperature, pulse, breathing rate, blood pressure)

References

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2013.

Bope ET, Kellerman RD. Psychiatric disorders. In: Bope ET, Kellerman RD, eds. Conn's Current Therapy 2016. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:section 15.

Inouye SK. Delirium or acute mental status change in the older patient. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 28.

Prager LM, Ivkovic A. Emergency psychiatry. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Fava M, Wilens TE, Rosenbaum JF, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 88.

Young JL, Rund DA. Mood disorders. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 111.

Review Date:2/21/2016
Reviewed By:Timothy Rogge, MD, Medical Director, Family Medical Psychiatry Center, Kirkland, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997-A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

adam.com

The Agency for Health Care Administration (Agency) and this website do not claim the information on, or referred to by, this site is error free. This site may include links to websites of other government agencies or private groups. Our Agency and this website do not control such sites and are not responsible for their content. Reference to or links to any other group, product, service, or information does not mean our Agency or this website approves of that group, product, service, or information.

Additionally, while health information provided through this website may be a valuable resource for the public, it is not designed to offer medical advice. Talk with your doctor about medical care questions you may have.

Health
Outcome Data

No data available for this condition/procedure.

Read More

Confusion

Fever *

Hyperactivity

Stress and your health


* Has Related Health Outcome Information

Health Encyclopedia

More Features

We Appreciate Your Feedback!
1. Did you find this information useful?
         Yes
         No
2. Would you recommend this website to family and friends?
         Yes
         No