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Agitation is an unpleasant state of extreme arousal, increased tension, and irritability.
- Alternative Names
Extreme agitation can lead to:
Agitation can come on suddenly or over time. It can last for just a few minutes, or for weeks and even months. Pain, stress, and fever can all increase agitation.
Agitation by itself may not be a sign of a health problem. However, if other symptoms occur, it can be a sign of disease.
When agitation lasts for hours and there is changed awareness (altered consciousness), doctors often call this "delirium." Usually this has a medical cause such as alcohol withdrawal or an infection (in elderly adults). Older adults often have delirium while hospitalized.
- Common Causes
Causes of agitation include:
- Alcohol withdrawal
- Cocaine, hallucinogenic drugs, ephedrine
- Cocaine withdrawal
- Medical tests that involve injecting a "contrast medium" into the patient
- Nicotine withdrawal
- Opiate withdrawal
- Theophylline or other medicines
- Vitamin B6 deficiency
Agitation can be associated with:
- Home Care
The following can reduce agitation:
- A calm environment
- Adequate lighting
- Plenty of sleep
- Stress-reducing measures
Don't restrain an overly agitated person if possible. This usually worsens the problem.
Communicating your feelings is important.
- Call your health care provider if
Contact your health care provider if you have prolonged or severe agitation, especially if you also have other unexplained symptoms.
- What to expect at your health care provider's office
Your health care provider will take a medical history and do a physical examination.
To help better understand your agitation, your doctor may ask the following questions:
- Are you more talkative than usual or do you feel pressure to keep talking?
- Do you find yourself doing purposeless activities (e.g., pacing, hand wringing)?
- Are you extremely restless?
- Are you trembling or twitching?
- Time pattern
- Was the agitation a short episode?
- Is the agitation persistent?
- How long did it last -- for how many day(s)?
- Aggravating factors
- Does the agitation seem to be triggered by reminders of a traumatic event?
- Did you notice anything else that may have triggered agitation?
- Do you take any medications, especially steroids or thyroid medicine?
- How much alcohol do you drink?
- How much caffeine do you drink?
- Do you use any drugs, such as cocaine, narcotics, or "speed" (amphetamines)?
- What other symptoms do you have?
- Is there confusion, memory loss, hyperactivity, or hostility (these symptoms can play an important role in diagnosis).
Diagnostic tests may include:
Moore DP, Jefferson JW. Handbook of Medical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby; 2004:chap 155.
Review Date: 5/26/2008
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Timothy A. Rogge, MD, private practice in Psychiatry, Kirkland, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.