Join for Just $16 A Year
- Discounts on travel and everyday savings
- Subscription to AARP The Magazine
- Free membership for your spouse or partner
Irritability is a feeling of agitation that can occur when someone is provoked. It can also be a symptom of a mental disorder or medical condition.
Irritability generally causes a person to feel frustrated easily. Often this frustration results in a short temper. Babies and young children commonly experience irritability, especially when they are ill. Children will often complain when they have ear infections or abdominal discomfort since they cannot accurately describe their symptoms.
In adults, irritability can be due to medical conditions or environmental factors.
Irritability has many causes that can be divided into two categories—medical and mental.
Common medical causes for irritability include:
Medical conditions that cause hormonal changes, or fluctuations, can also alter your mood. This is normally due to an imbalance in hormones released from the pituitary gland.
These conditions include:
The following psychological conditions can also cause irritability:
Irritability can be brief or repetitive (chronic). The mood may be caused by your medical condition, or it could be a side effect of the medication that you use to treat your condition.
Some other causes of irritability include:
Some people experience unexplained irritability on a regular basis. If you are one of these people, you should contact your doctor to discuss the possible causes and treatment options.
Irritability may be accompanied by additional symptoms. These symptoms may occur along with irritability or before your irritability begins. It may also occur during or after an interaction with another person, if you were provoked during the conversation.
Common symptoms that may accompany irritability are:
If a medication is causing your irritability, you may also have additional symptoms.
If a hormonal imbalance is causing your irritability, you may also have symptoms such as:
If you are experiencing irritability, you should make an appointment with your doctor. During your visit, he or she will ask about your medical history, any medications you are taking, and your history of psychological conditions. He or she will most likely do a physical examination and may take a blood and urine sample.
The presence of certain hormones in your blood may point to a hormonal imbalance that is causing your symptoms.
The glucose levels of your urine will be tested, to see if you have diabetes. This condition can sometimes cause irritability, since diabetics have a problem regulating their insulin levels and the extreme changes in their blood sugar can make them irritable.
The best way to treat irritability is to treat the condition that is causing it.
A mental health specialist must treat irritability that is caused by a psychological disorder. He or she may recommend prescription medications that will control your mood. Talk therapy is generally provided along with any medication.
Often, irritability is a result of withdrawal from alcohol, drugs, caffeine, or nicotine. In this case, your doctor may give you with a combination of talk therapy and medications to help control your cravings.
Children that experience irritability as a symptom of an infection will usually stop being irritable once the infection clears up.
Hormonal imbalances can usually be corrected with replacement hormones. Hormone replacement is not right for everyone—you should not start without first talking with your doctor. He or she will devise a treatment plan that is right for you.
Written by: April Kahn
Updated on Feb 15, 2013
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.
Member access to health and insurance products and services at AARPhealthcare.com.
Members can get an instant quote with AARP® Dental Insurance administered by Delta Dental Insurance Company.
Members can save on eyewear with AARP® Vision Discounts provided by EyeMed.
Caregiving can be a lonely journey, but AARP offers resources that can help.