What causes confusion? 80 possible conditions

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Confusion

Confusion is a symptom that makes you feel as if you cannot think clearly. You might feel disoriented and have a hard time focusing or making decisions. Confusion is also referred to as disorientation or delirium. If you or someone you care about is confused for a long period of time, dementia might be the reason. Dementia is a condition that is a result of loss of brain function. It also affects judgment and behavior as confusion does.

What Are the Signs of Confusion?

It is important to look for signs of confusion. Noticing the symptoms of confusion when they first appear will help you or your loved one get prompt treatment. Some signs of confusion are:

  • slurring words or having long pauses during speech
  • lack of awareness of location or time
  • forgetting what a task is while it is being performed
  • sudden changes in emotion, such as sudden agitation

If you are the one experiencing signs of confusion, it might be a good idea to call a friend or loved one for help. If you are confused, you might need help with things that you could do on your own before.

When to See a Doctor

If you or someone you know starts showing signs of confusion, call a doctor. People suffering from confusion can sometimes act aggressively, harming themselves or other people. Call a doctor if you notice:

  • dizziness
  • rapid heart beat
  • clammy skin
  • fever
  • headache
  • shivering
  • irregular breathing

Underlying Causes of Confusion

There are a number of factors that can cause confusion, from serious health problems to vitamin deficiencies. Alcohol intoxication is a common cause of confusion. Other causes include:

Concussion

A concussion is a brain injury that occurs as a result of head trauma. A concussion can alter the level of alertness as well as judgment, coordination, and speech. You might pass out if you have a concussion, but it is possible to have one and not know it.

Fluid Imbalance

Your body loses fluids everyday through sweating, urination, and other bodily functions. If you do not replace these fluids often enough, you could eventually become dehydrated. This can affect the amount of electrolytes, or minerals, your body contains, which can cause problems with your body’s ability to function.

Medications

Certain medications can cause confusion. Not taking medications as prescribed can also cause confusion. Confusion is commonly seen in cancer treatment. Chemotherapy, which uses chemicals to kill cancer cells, often affects healthy cells along with cancerous ones. Chemotherapy can cause damage to your nerves which can affect your brain’s functions and cause confusion.

Other Potential Causes

  • fever
  • infection
  • low blood sugar
  • not getting enough sleep
  • lack of oxygen
  • rapid drop in body temperature

What Can Be Done About Confusion?

Depending upon the cause for confusion, you or your loved one might find relief in treatment at home. In other cases, the underlying cause for the confusion might require medical attention.

At Home Treatment of Confusion

If the cause of your confusion is low blood sugar, drinking a sweetened beverage or eating a small piece of candy may be all you need to relieve your symptoms. If your confusion is caused by a fluid imbalance, drinking water or electrolyte drinks can help relieve your symptoms.

If your confusion is caused by a concussion, your doctor will decide when it is best to release you from treatment. He or she may want you to eat light foods and avoid alcohol. You may not need to stay in bed, but if you think you may fall asleep within the first 12 hours of having a concussion, have someone check on you every few hours.

Article Sources:

  • Constipation. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 11, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/constipation/DS00063
  • Crohn’s disease. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 10, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/crohns-disease/DS00104
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 10, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/inflammatory-bowel-disease/DS01195
  • Motility Disorders of the Large Intestine. (n.d.). About GI Motility. Retrieved July 10, 2012, from http://www.aboutgimotility.org/site/about-gi-motility/disorders-of-the-large-intestine/
  • Tenesmus. (n.d.). National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved July 11, 2012, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0003618/
  • Ulcerative colitis. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 10, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/ulcerative-colitis/DS00598
Read More

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

1

Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)

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

Also known as hypoglycemia, low blood sugar can be a dangerous condition. Hypoglycemia is rare in people who are not suffering from diabetes, the chronic disease that affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar...

Read more »

2

Stroke Overview

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

A stroke (a "brain attack") is a medical emergency in which part of the brain is deprived of oxygen. This occurs when an artery that supplies oxygenated blood to the brain becomes damaged and brain cells begin to die.

Read more »

3

Psychosis

Psychosis is a serious mental disorder characterized by thinking and emotions that are so impaired, that they indicate that the person experiencing them has lost contact with reality. People who are psychotic have fals...

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4

Seizures

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

Seizures are changes in the brain's electrical activity that cause violent shaking and loss of bodily control. Bruises can result from injuries sustained during a seizure.

Read more »

5

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.

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6

Hypovolemic Shock

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

Hypovolemic shock is a life-threatening condition that results when you lose more than 20 percent (one-fifth) of your body's blood or fluid supply. This severe fluid loss makes it impossible for the heart to pum...

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7

Orthostatic Hypotension

Orthostatic hypotension (also called postural hypotension) is a sudden fall in blood pressure that occurs upon standing quickly.

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8

Skull Fractures

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

A skull fracture is any break in the cranial bone, or the skull. It can result in bleeding, bruising, pain, and swelling. Less severe symptoms include headache, nausea, confusion, and blurred vision.

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9

Alcoholism

Alcoholism is also known as alcohol dependence. It occurs when you drink so much over time that your body becomes dependent on or addicted to alcohol. When this happens, alcohol use becomes the most important thing i...

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10

What is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's disease (AD), the most common cause of dementia, is a progressive brain disorder. Learn about the causes, signs and research being done about AD.

Read more »

11

CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating disorder characterized by intense fatigue that cannot be cured with sleep. Mental and physical activities may cause your symptoms to worsen. When your fatigue cannot b...

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12

Caffeine Overdose

Caffeine overdose may occur when you ingest more than the recommended amount of caffeine, which is usually 200 to 300 mg per day. However, a safe amount of caffeine is different for everyone, as it depends on weight...

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13

Concussion

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

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury. It can occur after an impact to your head or after a whiplash-type injury that causes your head and brain to shake quickly back and forth. Concussions are usually not lif...

Read more »

14

Drug Allergy Overview

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

Drug allergies are overblown responses of the immune system to prescription or over-the-counter drugs that aren't typically harmful. Learn more about symptoms, causes and treatments for allergic reactions to drugs.

Read more »

15

Cardiogenic Shock

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

Cardiogenic shock is a state where the heart has been damaged to the point where it is unable to supply enough blood to the organs of the body. As a result of the failure of the heart to pump enough nutrients to th...

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16

Sepsis

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

Sepsis is a life-threatening complication of infection. It often occurs in people who are elderly or have weak immune systems. Sepsis happens when the body suffers from an infection and the chemicals released into th...

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17

Thyroid Storm

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

Thyroid storm is a life-threatening health condition that is associated with untreated or undertreated hyperthyroidism. During thyroid storm, an individual's heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature can soar t...

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18

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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19

The Deadly Potential of Digitalis: Digitalis Toxicity

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

Digitalis toxicity (DT) occurs when you take too much digitalis (also known as digoxin or digitoxin), a medication used to treat heart conditions. Signs of toxicity include nausea, vomiting, and an irregular heartbeat...

Read more »

20

Heat Emergencies

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

Heat emergencies are health crises caused by exposure to hot weather and sun. Heat emergencies have three stages: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. All three stages are serious. If left untreated, the firs...

Read more »

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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