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Healthgrades Editorial Staff

What is aggression?

Aggression is a behavior characterized by strong self-assertion with hostile or harmful tones. Under some circumstances, aggression may be a normal reaction to a threat. Alternatively, it may be abnormal, unprovoked or reactive behavior (intermittent explosive disorder). Anger, confusion, discomfort, fear, overstimulation and tiredness can lead to aggressive reactions.

Aggressive behaviors may be directed at oneself, at others, at animals, or at property. They can be verbal or physical. They can be premeditated and goal-oriented or impulsive. They can be direct or indirect, overt or covert.

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Aggression is a potential symptom of diseases, disorders or conditions that interfere with thought processes, such as brain tumors, dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and a number of personality disorders. Although specific causes of aggression are not known, some studies have shown that abnormal brain chemistry or structural changes may play a role. Environment and genetics also seem to be involved.

Aggressive behaviors can lead to academic, employment, financial, legal and relationship problems. Associated actions may result in incarceration or hospitalization. The success of rehabilitation and treatment depends on the underlying cause of the aggression.

Aggression can have serious, even life-threating, complications. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious injury; or threatening, irrational or suicidal behavior.

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

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Oct 13, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Drug abuse and addiction: One of America’s most challenging public health problems. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  2. Dementia.
  3. Siever LJ. Neurobiology of aggression and violence. Am J Psychiatry 2008; 165:429.

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