Agitation

Alternative names
Restlessness

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

Considerations
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.

What to expect at your health care provider’s office
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       o Is the patient more talkative than usual or is there a feeling of pressure to keep talking?       o Does the patient show increased purposeless activity (e.g., pacing, hand wringing)?       o Is the patient extremely restless?       o Is the patient trembling or twitching?  
  • time pattern       o Was the agitation a short episode?       o Is the agitation persistent?           + How long did it persist - for how many day(s)?  
  • aggravating factors       o Does the agitation seem to be triggered by reminders of a traumatic event?       o Did you notice anything else that may have triggered agitation?       o Does the patient take any medications, in particular, steroids or thyroid medicine?       o How much alcohol does the patient drink?       o How much caffeine does the patient drink?       o Does the patient use any drugs, in particular, cocaine, narcotics, or amphetamines (speed)?  
  • other       o What other symptoms are also present?       o Is there confusion, Memory loss, hyperactivity, or hostility (these symptoms may play an important role in diagnosis).

Diagnostic tests may include:

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Harutyun Medina, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.