Medical Encyclopedia


Medical Encyclopedia

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Contents of this page:


Central nervous system
Central nervous system

Alternative Names    Return to top


Definition    Return to top

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

Considerations    Return to top

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.

Causes    Return to top

Causes of agitation include:

Agitation can be associated with:

Home Care    Return to top

The following can reduce agitation:

Don't restrain an overly-agitated person if possible. This usually worsens the problem.

Communicating your feelings is important.

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

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 Office Visit    Return to top

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:

References    Return to top

Moore DP, Jefferson JW. Moore & Jefferson: Handbook of Medical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby; 2004:chap 155.

Update Date: 5/26/2008

Updated 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.

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