Agitation is an unpleasant state of extreme arousal. An agitated person may feel stirred up, excited, tense, confused, or irritable.
Agitation can come on suddenly or over time. It can last for a few minutes, for weeks, or even months. Pain, stress, and fever can all increase agitation.
Agitation by itself may not be a sign of a health problem. But if other symptoms occur, it can be a sign of disease.
Agitation with a change in alertness (altered consciousness) can be a sign of delirium. Delirium has a medical cause and should be checked by a health care provider right away.
There are many causes of agitation, some of which include:
Agitation can occur with brain and mental health disorders, such as:
The most important way to deal with agitation is to find and treat the cause. Agitation may lead to an increased risk of suicide and other forms of violence.
After treating the cause, the following measures can reduce agitation:
Do not physically hold back an agitated person, if possible. This usually makes the problem worse. Only use restraints if the person is at risk of harming themselves or others, and there is no other way to control the behavior.
Contact your health care provider for agitation that:
Your health care provider will take a medical history and do a physical examination. To better understand your agitation, your health care provider may ask about things about your agitation.
Tests may include:
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, Va: American Psychiatric Publishing. 2013.
Inouye SK. Delirium or acute mental status change in the older patient. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 27.
Park JM, Park L, Prager LM. Emergency psychiatry. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Fava M, et al., eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2008:chap 87.
Rossi J, Swan MC, Isaacs ED. The violent or agitated patient. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2010;28:235-256.
Updated by: Fred K. Berger, MD, Addiction and Forensic Psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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