What causes agitation? 41 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.


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.


Generalized Anxiety Disorder

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Hypovolemic Shock

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

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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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Pulmonary Edema

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

Pulmonary edema is a condition in which the lungs fill with fluid. When this occurs, the body struggles to get enough oxygen, often resulting in breathlessness, coughing, excessive sweating, and bluish skin or lips.

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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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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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Septic Shock

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

Septic shock is a complication of an infection in which toxins can initiate a full-body inflammatory response and organ failure. Confusion, breathing problems, chills, and cold sweats.

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Cardiogenic Shock

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

Cardiogenic shock is a rare condition in which the heart is so damaged that it is unable to supply sufficient blood to bodily organs. Sweating and cold extremities are potential signs of this condition.

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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.

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Head Injury

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

Injuries to your brain, skull, or scalp are all types of head injury. A head injury may be mild or severe depending on what caused it. Some injuries produce bleeding within your skull. Others cause damage on the outsid...

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Schizophrenia Overview

Although schizophrenia strikes only about one percent of the population, it is so disabling it is considered among the most important of psychiatric illnesses.

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Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness marked by extreme shifts in mood, from mania to depression. In mania, a person may feel extremely excited, impulsive, euphoric, and full of energy. Depression might brin...

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Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment disorder is an unexpectedly strong emotional or behavioral reaction that occurs in response to an identifiable stressful life event or life change that occurred within the previous three months.Adjustmen...

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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating anxiety disorder that occurs after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event that involves either a real or perceived threat of injury or death. This ca...

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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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The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of the neck below your Adam's apple. It produces tetraiodothyronine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), two hormones which control how your cells us...

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

Septicemia is also known as bacteremia or blood poisoning. Septicemia occurs when a bacterial infection enters the bloodstream. Untreated septicemia can quickly progress to sepsis, which is a serious complication of a...

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HIV causes progressive failure of the immune system, making the body far more susceptible to infections and cancer.

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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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