What causes agitation? 44 possible conditions

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What Is Agitation?

Agitation is a feeling of aggravation or restlessness brought on by provocation or a medical condition.

It is normal for people to feel agitated from time to time. It is often a direct result of everyday stresses caused by work or school. However, if you have agitation that seems to occur for no reason, you should make an appointment to have it checked out by your doctor.

What Causes Someone to Become Agitated?

Agitation is a feeling experienced by everyone at least once in their lives. It is a normal emotion. In the majority of cases, it is not a cause for worry or concern.

Some common causes for agitation include:

  • work stress
  • grief
  • feeling ill
  • burn-out
  • peer pressure
  • school stress

When it is short-lived, agitation does not usually lead to significant complications. However, certain medical conditions can cause agitation. These include:

  • anxiety disorders
  • disorders or conditions that cause imbalances in your hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen
  • mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia

In some rare cases, a tumor—an abnormal growth—that is located in the brain can cause changes in your mood and attitude, such as unprovoked agitation.

Autistic children may also experience agitation if they are around the things that trigger them, such as bright colors or loud noises.

How Is Agitation Diagnosed?

During your appointment, your doctor will try to determine if your agitation is caused by a mental health disorder or a medical condition.

He or she will ask questions concerning your medical history and lifestyle. Then, he or she may take a blood sample to test for certain hormone levels.

If your doctor does not suspect a medical condition, he or she will refer you to a mental health specialist. This mental health specialist will go over your symptoms and your everyday activities, in order to determine a cause for the agitation.

If the cause still remains unknown, more in-depth testing may be necessary. You may need a computed tomography (CT) scan or a MRI of your head. Your doctor may also order a spinal tap or urine test.

Treating Agitation

Agitation is often a treatable symptom.

Hormonal Imbalances

If a medical condition is affecting how hormones are released from your brain, your hormone levels can generally be corrected through the use of certain medications. In some cases, this medication will need to be taken over an extended amount of time. These types of treatments are often prescribed to women going through menopause or people with imbalances in their thyroid glands.

Abnormal Growth in the Brain

A brain tumor that causes agitation will be treated according to its size and location. If the tumor is too difficult to remove with surgery, your doctor may choose to carefully monitor the growth. In some cases, he or she may use an aggressive treatment method, such as chemotherapy, to shrink it. If the growth can be removed safely, your doctor will refer you to a surgeon to perform the procedure.

Mental Illness

Agitation caused by mental illnesses can be treated in therapy. In a typical therapy session, you will go over your symptoms and develop efficient ways to deal with them. If therapy is not helping in your particular case, you may have to take a medication to help you to stay calm. These medications may be taken over a long course of time, or only when you feel agitated.

Stress

Agitation caused by stress at work or school may be relieved through deep breathing exercises. Deep breathing can help restore calm in that it allows you to focus on breathing rather than the situations causing you to feel agitated.

You may also discuss your stress with your boss or teacher to see if there are effective ways to reduce it. If you feel you are being overworked, discuss it with your supervisor. This may help you to feel less agitated.

Some people find meditation to be a soothing practice for relaxation and combating agitation. Meditation is also particularly helpful in preventing agitation.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Opioids and related disorders

Opioids are a class of drugs that include both natural and synthetic substances. The natural opioids (referred to as opiates) include opium and morphine.

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2

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is the name for the symptoms that occur when a heavy drinker suddenly stops or significantly reduces their alcohol intake. With AWS, you may feel mild anxiety and fatigue. You may als...

Read more »

3

Cocaine and related disorders

Cocaine is extracted from the coca plant, which grows in Central and South America. It is processed into many forms for use as an illegal drug of abuse.

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4

AIDS

There are many symptoms of the autoimmune disease HIV/AIDS, including persistent skin rashes, night sweats, and mouth sores.

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5

Thyroid Storm

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Thyroid storm is a life-threatening condition that results from undertreated or untreated hyperthyroidism. Persistent sweating is one possible sign of thyroid storm.

Read more »

6

Hyperthyroidism

The thyroid gland produces a hormone that controls how your cells use energy (metabolize). Hyperthyroidism occurs when the body produces excessive amounts, causing rapid heart rates, weight loss, and heat intolerance.

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7

Organic Brain Syndrome

Organic brain syndrome (OBS) is a general term for decreases in mental function that are not caused by a psychiatric disorder. Reduced mental function could include: problems with memory difficulties understandin...

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8

Respiratory Alkalosis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Respiratory alkalosis is a condition that changes the balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood. It occurs when carbon dioxide levels drop too low. Hyperventilation is typically the underlying cause.

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9

Head Injury

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A head injury could be an injury to the brain, skull, or scalp. It can vary in severity depending on the cause. In some cases face swelling can be a sign of a head injury.

Read more »

10

Anxiety

What is anxiety? Anxiety often manifests itself as an apprehension about daily life. Learn the basics with this overview of the types of anxiety disorders.

Read more »

11

Amphetamine Dependence

People who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder sometimes require amphetamines to help them cope. Some people take amphetamines to treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder. Amphetamines are a type of stimulant, ...

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12

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

People who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, worry uncontrollably about common occurrences and situations. The condition may also be called chronic anxiety neurosis.GAD is different than normal feeling...

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13

Delirium

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Delirium is an abrupt change in the brain that causes mental confusion and emotional disruption. It makes it difficult to think, remember, sleep, pay attention, and more. You might experience the condition durin...

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14

Eclampsia

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Eclampsia is a rare but severe condition that causes seizures during pregnancy. Seizures are periods of disturbed brain activity that can cause episodes of staring, decreased alertness, and violent shakin...

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15

The Catastrophy of Cardiac Tamponade

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Cardiac tamponade is a serious medical condition in which fluids fill the space between the sac around the heart and the heart muscle, creating pressure. Symptoms include anxiety, short breath, fainting, and more.

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16

Meningitis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord. It may cause headache and fever in teens and adults, irritability in babies, and trouble breathing in young children.

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17

Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Alcohol withdrawal delirium (AWD) is the most serious form of alcohol withdrawal. It causes sudden and severe problems in your brain and nervous system. Approximately five percent of hospital patients being treated fo...

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18

Septicemia

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Septicemia is bacterial infection spread through the entire vascular system of the body. If untreated, it can result in sepsis, a life-threatening inflammation. A main symptom is blue lips or finger nails.

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19

Encephalopathy

Encephalopathy is a general term describing a disease that affects the function or structure of your brain. There are many types of encephalopathy and brain disease. Some types are permanent and some are temporary. Som...

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20

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that occurs after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. PTSD can cause disruptive symptoms of panic, increased arousal, and mental/emotional problems.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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