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What is irritability?

Irritability is a behavior or response to people or circumstances that cause annoyance or frustration. While it can be a normal temporary symptom of situational stress or anxiety, severe or persistent irritability may be an indication of a more complex underlying disorder.

Irritability can be related to psychiatric conditions, such as anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoid and schizotypal personality disorders, or substance abuse. Drug, alcohol, or tobacco withdrawal can also cause irritability.

Irritability can also be related to medication side effects or chronic medical conditions. Medications and substances can directly affect the nervous system, which can result in irritability. Medical conditions that affect the central nervous system, such as dementia, brain tumors, meningitis, and stroke, can cause irritability. Irritability can also result from conditions that can deprive the brain of nutrients and oxygen, such as cardiovascular and lung diseases.

Irritability can also be associated with a variety of other diseases that affect how well one feels, such as chronic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, acute illnesses, or severe illnesses.

Irritability can be a symptom of a serious, or even life-threatening, condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for irritability associated with confusion or loss of consciousness for even a moment; high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit); respiratory or breathing problems, such as rapid or slow breathing, shortness of breath, or no breathing; seizure; serious injury; or threatening, irrational or suicidal behavior.

If your irritability is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Aug 23, 2013

© 2014 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

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