Symptom: Irritable Mood

    What Is Irritability?

    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.

    What Causes Irritability?

    Irritability has many causes that can be divided into two categories—medical and mental.

    Common medical causes for irritability include:

  • toothaches
  • ear infections
  • flu
  • fever
  • pain
  • menopause
  • premenstrual syndrome
  • 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:

  • menopause
  • polycystic ovary syndrome
  • hyperthyroidism
  • The following psychological conditions can also cause irritability:

  • stress
  • anxiety disorder
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • schizophrenia
  • autism
  • 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:

  • drug use
  • alcoholism
  • nicotine withdrawal
  • caffeine withdrawal
  • 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.

    Identifying Irritability

    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:

  • sweating
  • racing heart
  • fast breathing
  • confusion
  • anger
  • 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:

  • headache
  • fever
  • hot flashes
  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • hair loss
  • Diagnosing Irritability

    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.

    Treating Irritability

    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.


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