What Causes Agitation?

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD, CRNP, ACRN, CPH on April 23, 2018Written by April Kahn

Agitation is a feeling of aggravation, annoyance, or restlessness brought on by provocation or, in some cases, little to no provocation. It can be a sign of an underlying medical or psychiatric condition. It’s normal to feel agitated from time to... Read More

Agitation is a feeling of aggravation, annoyance, or restlessness brought on by provocation or, in some cases, little to no provocation. It can be a sign of an underlying medical or psychiatric condition.

It’s normal to feel agitated from time to time. For example, you might feel agitated in response to stress from work or school. But if you regularly experience agitation for no known reason, make an appointment with your doctor. You may have an underlying medical condition that requires treatment.

What causes agitation?

Agitation is a normal emotion experienced by most people at least once in their lives. In the majority of cases, it’s not cause for worry or concern. Common causes of agitation include:

  • work stress
  • school stress
  • feeling ill
  • burnout
  • peer pressure
  • grief

Medical conditions that can cause agitation include:

If you regularly feel agitated for no apparent reason, make an appointment with your doctor. An underlying mental or physical health condition may be negatively affecting your mood. Your doctor can help identify the cause of your agitation and, if needed, prescribe treatment.

How are the causes of agitation diagnosed?

To identify the underlying cause of your agitation, your doctor will likely start by asking you questions about your medical history and lifestyle.

If they suspect that you have an underlying mental health condition, they may refer you to a mental health specialist for evaluation.

If they think that you have an underlying physical condition, they may conduct one or more diagnostic tests.

For example, they may collect a sample of your blood to check for hormonal imbalances. They may also collect a sample of your urine or spinal fluid to check for abnormalities. In some cases, they may order a CT scan or MRI scan of your brain.

How are the causes of agitation treated?

Your doctor’s recommended treatment plan will depend on what’s causing your agitation.

Stress

To relieve agitation caused by stress, your doctor may recommend a variety of relaxation techniques, which may include deep breathing exercises, yoga, or other meditative practices. Deep breathing and meditation can help restore your sense of calm. Exercising and participating in activities you enjoy can also reduce stress.

Your doctor may also refer you to a psychotherapist if these techniques fail to provide you with relief.

You should take steps to identify and limit your contact with things that cause you stress as well. For example, if you feel overwhelmed by your workload, discuss it with your supervisor or teacher.

Mental illness

If you’re diagnosed with an anxiety or mood disorder, your doctor may recommend medications, talk therapy, or a combination of both to treat it. During a typical therapy session, you will discuss your symptoms and develop strategies to cope with them.

Hormonal imbalances

If you’re diagnosed with a condition that affects your hormonal balance, your doctor may prescribe hormone replacement therapy or other medications to treat it. They may also refer you to a hormone specialist, known as an endocrinologist.

Brain tumor

If you’re diagnosed with a brain tumor, your recommended treatment plan will depend on its type, size, and location. In some cases, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy to shrink it. If it can be removed safely with surgery, they may refer you to a surgeon to perform the procedure. If it’s too difficult or dangerous to remove, your doctor may simply choose to monitor the growth for changes.

What is the outlook for agitation?

Your outlook will depend on the underlying cause of your agitation and the steps you take to treat it. In many cases, taking steps to reduce stress can relieve agitation. In others cases, you may need to take medication or have other treatments on a temporary or ongoing basis.

Ask your doctor for more information about your specific condition, treatment options, and long-term outlook.

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD, CRNP, ACRN, CPH on April 23, 2018Written by April Kahn

44 possible conditions

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose. Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.

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