Agitation is an unpleasant state of extreme arousal (stirred up or excited), increased tension, and irritability.
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 a change in alertness (altered consciousness), doctors call this delirium. Delerium always has a medical cause.
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. If left untreated, agitation leads to an increased risk of suicide.
After treating the cause, the following measures can reduce agitation:
Don't restrain an overly 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, less restrictive way to control the behavior.
Contact your health care provider for agitation:
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:
Diagnostic tests may include:
Park JM, Park L, Prager LM. Emergency psychiatry. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Fava M, Biederman J, Rauch SL, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2008:chap 87.
Rossi J, Swan MC, Isaacs ED. The violent or agitated patient. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2010;28:235-256.
Reviewed by: Linda Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Michelle Benger Merrill, MD, Instructor in Clinical Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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