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Alternative names



Agitation refers to an unpleasant state of extreme arousal, increased tension , and irritability.


Extreme agitation can lead to confusion , hyperactivity , and outright hostility. Agitation can come on suddenly or gradually. 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 have much clinical significance; but, if viewed with other symptoms, it can be a good indicator of a disease state.

Common Causes

  • alcohol withdrawal
  • nicotine withdrawal
  • cocaine withdrawal
  • opiate withdrawal
  • caffeine
  • cocaine , hallucinogenic drugs, ephedrine
  • theophylline or other medicines
  • vitamin B-6 deficiency
  • hyperthyroidism
  • medical tests that involve injecting a "contrast medium" into the patient
Agitation can be assoicated with anxiety and depression , bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Home Care

A calm environment, plenty of sleep, adequate lighting, and any measure to reduce stress may help to decrease agitation. Avoid restraining an overly-agitated person if possible, since this usually makes the problem worse.

Communication of feelings is important.

Call your health care provider if

  • there is prolonged or severe agitation, especially if accompanied by other unexplained symptoms.

Your health care provider will obtain a medical history from either the patient or a family member and do a physical examination.

To help better understand your agitation, your doctor may ask the following:
  • type
    • Is the patient more talkative than usual or is there a feeling of pressure to keep talking?
    • Does the patient show increased purposeless activity (e.g., pacing, hand wringing)?
    • Is the patient extremely restless?
    • Is the patient trembling or twitching ?
  • time pattern
    • Was the agitation a short episode?
    • Is the agitation persistent?
      • How long did it persist -- 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?
    • Does the patient take any medications, in particular, steroids or thyroid medicine?
    • How much alcohol does the patient drink?
    • How much caffeine does the patient drink?
    • Does the patient use any drugs, in particular, cocaine, narcotics, or amphetamines (speed)?
  • other
    • What other symptoms are also present?
    • Is there confusion, memory loss, hyperactivity, or hostility (these symptoms may play an important role in diagnosis).
Diagnostic tests may include:
  • Vital signs (temperature, pulse , rate of breathing, blood pressure )
  • Blood studies (such as CBC , blood differential , thyroid studies, drug screening)
  • Head CT scan or cranial MRI (head)
  • Lumbar puncture
  • X-rays of the skull

Update Date: 11/10/2003

Vineeth John, M.D., Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT