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Agitation: Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatments

What Is Agitation?

Agitation is a feeling of aggravation or restlessness brought on by provocation or a medical condition.

It is normal for people to feel agitated from time to time. It is often a direct result of everyday stresses caused by work or school. However, if you have agitation that seems to occur for no reason, you should make an appointment to have it checked out by your doctor.

What Causes Someone to Become Agitated?

Agitation is a feeling experienced by everyone at least once in their lives. It is a normal emotion. In the majority of cases, it is not a cause for worry or concern.

Some common causes for agitation include:

  • work stress
  • grief
  • feeling ill
  • burn-out
  • peer pressure
  • school stress

When it is short-lived, agitation does not usually lead to significant complications. However, certain medical conditions can cause agitation. These include:

  • anxiety disorders
  • disorders or conditions that cause imbalances in your hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen
  • mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia

In some rare cases, a tumor—an abnormal growth—that is located in the brain can cause changes in your mood and attitude, such as unprovoked agitation.

Autistic children may also experience agitation if they are around the things that trigger them, such as bright colors or loud noises.

How Is Agitation Diagnosed?

During your appointment, your doctor will try to determine if your agitation is caused by a mental health disorder or a medical condition.

He or she will ask questions concerning your medical history and lifestyle. Then, he or she may take a blood sample to test for certain hormone levels.

If your doctor does not suspect a medical condition, he or she will refer you to a mental health specialist. This mental health specialist will go over your symptoms and your everyday activities, in order to determine a cause for the agitation.

If the cause still remains unknown, more in-depth testing may be necessary. You may need a computed tomography (CT) scan or a MRI of your head. Your doctor may also order a spinal tap or urine test.

Treating Agitation

Agitation is often a treatable symptom.

Hormonal Imbalances

If a medical condition is affecting how hormones are released from your brain, your hormone levels can generally be corrected through the use of certain medications. In some cases, this medication will need to be taken over an extended amount of time. These types of treatments are often prescribed to women going through menopause or people with imbalances in their thyroid glands.

Abnormal Growth in the Brain

A brain tumor that causes agitation will be treated according to its size and location. If the tumor is too difficult to remove with surgery, your doctor may choose to carefully monitor the growth. In some cases, he or she may use an aggressive treatment method, such as chemotherapy, to shrink it. If the growth can be removed safely, your doctor will refer you to a surgeon to perform the procedure.

Mental Illness

Agitation caused by mental illnesses can be treated in therapy. In a typical therapy session, you will go over your symptoms and develop efficient ways to deal with them. If therapy is not helping in your particular case, you may have to take a medication to help you to stay calm. These medications may be taken over a long course of time, or only when you feel agitated.


Agitation caused by stress at work or school may be relieved through deep breathing exercises. Deep breathing can help restore calm in that it allows you to focus on breathing rather than the situations causing you to feel agitated.

You may also discuss your stress with your boss or teacher to see if there are effective ways to reduce it. If you feel you are being overworked, discuss it with your supervisor. This may help you to feel less agitated.

Some people find meditation to be a soothing practice for relaxation and combating agitation. Meditation is also particularly helpful in preventing agitation.

Content licensed from:

Written by: April Kahnon: Oct 25, 2016

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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