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What causes irritable mood? 83 possible conditions

What Is Irritability?

Irritability is a feeling of agitation that can occur when someone is provoked. It can also be a symptom of a mental disorder or medical condition.

Irritability generally causes a person to feel frustrated easily. Often this frustration results in a short temper. Babies and young children commonly experience irritability, especially when they are ill. Children will often complain when they have ear infections or abdominal discomfort since they cannot accurately describe their symptoms.

In adults, irritability can be due to medical conditions or environmental factors.

What Causes Irritability?

Irritability has many causes that can be divided into two categories—medical and mental.

Common medical causes for irritability include:

  • toothaches
  • ear infections
  • flu
  • fever
  • pain
  • menopause
  • premenstrual syndrome

Medical conditions that cause hormonal changes, or fluctuations, can also alter your mood. This is normally due to an imbalance in hormones released from the pituitary gland.

These conditions include:

  • menopause
  • polycystic ovary syndrome
  • hyperthyroidism

The following psychological conditions can also cause irritability:

  • stress
  • anxiety disorder
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • schizophrenia
  • autism

Irritability can be brief or repetitive (chronic). The mood may be caused by your medical condition, or it could be a side effect of the medication that you use to treat your condition.

Some other causes of irritability include:

  • drug use
  • alcoholism
  • nicotine withdrawal
  • caffeine withdrawal

Some people experience unexplained irritability on a regular basis. If you are one of these people, you should contact your doctor to discuss the possible causes and treatment options.

Identifying Irritability

Irritability may be accompanied by additional symptoms. These symptoms may occur along with irritability or before your irritability begins. It may also occur during or after an interaction with another person, if you were provoked during the conversation.

Common symptoms that may accompany irritability are:

  • sweating
  • racing heart
  • fast breathing
  • confusion
  • anger

If a medication is causing your irritability, you may also have additional symptoms.

If a hormonal imbalance is causing your irritability, you may also have symptoms such as:

  • headache
  • fever
  • hot flashes
  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • hair loss

Diagnosing Irritability

If you are experiencing irritability, you should make an appointment with your doctor. During your visit, he or she will ask about your medical history, any medications you are taking, and your history of psychological conditions. He or she will most likely do a physical examination and may take a blood and urine sample.

The presence of certain hormones in your blood may point to a hormonal imbalance that is causing your symptoms.

The glucose levels of your urine will be tested, to see if you have diabetes. This condition can sometimes cause irritability, since diabetics have a problem regulating their insulin levels and the extreme changes in their blood sugar can make them irritable.

Treating Irritability

The best way to treat irritability is to treat the condition that is causing it.

A mental health specialist must treat irritability that is caused by a psychological disorder. He or she may recommend prescription medications that will control your mood. Talk therapy is generally provided along with any medication.

Often, irritability is a result of withdrawal from alcohol, drugs, caffeine, or nicotine. In this case, your doctor may give you with a combination of talk therapy and medications to help control your cravings.

Children that experience irritability as a symptom of an infection will usually stop being irritable once the infection clears up.

Hormonal imbalances can usually be corrected with replacement hormones. Hormone replacement is not right for everyone—you should not start without first talking with your doctor. He or she will devise a treatment plan that is right for you.

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


Depression Overview

Depression is a mood disorder that can cause extreme and persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness. Depression type largely determines what kind of medical treatment is best.

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Middle Ear Infection

A middle ear infection (otitis media), occurs when a virus or bacteria causes the area behind the eardrum to become inflamed. It is most common in children.

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

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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...

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PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome)

PMS symptoms start five to 11 days before menstruation and typically go away once menstruation begins. The cause of PMS is unknown.

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

Meningococcemia is a bacterial blood infection caused by the same type of bacteria that causes some types of meningitis. Advanced symptoms of the infection include blood clots and bleeding under the skin.

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Colic and Crying

Your baby has colic if they cry for more than three hours a day, three or more times a week, for at least three weeks. This could be due to hunger, acid reflux, gas, or overfeeding.

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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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Subarachnoid hemorrhage

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

This life-threatening hemorrhage involves bleeding between the brain and the tissues that cover it. If you experience an extreme headache, a popping sound in your head, seizures, and other symptoms, seek immediate help.

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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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Sleeplessness, or insomnia, is a serious sleep disorder. It can mean the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night, or the tendency to wake too early before having gotten enough sleep.

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

A fracture is a broken bone that typically occurs when a bone is impacted by more force or pressure than it can support. In an open fracture, the ends of the broken bone tear the skin.

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CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating disorder characterized by extreme tiredness that can't be explained by an underlying medical 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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Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are severely painful headaches that occur in cycles. They start suddenly and occur on one side of the head. Additional symptoms include face and eye redness and nausea.

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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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Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder mental illness marked by extreme from mania to depression. Bipolar disorder is also called bipolar disease or manic depression.

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Acute Stress Disorder

In the weeks after a traumatic event, you may develop an anxiety disorder called acute stress disorder (ASD). ASD typically occurs within one month of a traumatic event. It lasts at least two days and up to one month...

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Dementia Overview

Dementia may affect memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior. Mental impairment must affect at least two brain functions to be considered dementia.

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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.