An alteration in mental status refers to general changes in brain function, such as confusion, amnesia (memory loss), loss of alertness, disorientation (not cognizant of self, time, or place), defects in judgment or thought, unusual or strange behavior, poor regulation of emotions, and disruptions in perception, psychomotor skills, and behavior. While an altered mental status is obviously characteristic of a number of psychiatric and emotional conditions, medical conditions and injuries that cause damage to the brain, including alcohol or drug overdose and withdrawal syndromes, can also cause mental status changes. Confusion, lethargy, delirium, dementia, encephalopathy, and organic brain syndrome are all terms that have been used to refer to conditions hallmarked by mental status changes.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.
Pictures, Images, Illustrations & Quizzes
Concussions & Brain Injuries: Symptoms, Tests, Treatment
Concussions are a common type of traumatic brain injury. Read more about symptoms of a concussion, how to treat head injuries,...
Dehydration: Causes, Symptoms & Tips to Stay Hydrated
Do you know the signs of dehydration? Dehydration can cause medical complications. Learn the causes, symptoms, treatments, and...
Meningitis Quiz: Test Your Infectious Disease IQ
What is meningitis and what causes it? Take our Meningitis Quiz to learn the causes, symptoms, treatments, and complications of...
Causes of Altered Mental Status
Alcoholism is a disease that includes alcohol craving and continued drinking despite repeated alcohol-related problems, such as...
Bipolar disorder (or manic depression) is a mental illness characterized by depression, mania, and severe mood swings. Treatment...
Brain Damage: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment
Brain damage causes destruction or deterioration of brain cells. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) and acquired brain injury (ABI) are...
Brain Tumor (Symptoms, Signs, Types, Causes, Survival Rates)
A brain tumor can be either non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant), primary, or secondary. Common symptoms of a primary...
Brief Psychotic Disorder
Brief psychotic disorder is a short-term mental illness that features psychotic symptoms. There are three forms of brief...
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a rare, degenerative, invariably fatal brain disorder. CJD generally appears in the later...
Dementia is defined as a significant loss of intellectual abilities such as memory capacity, severe enough to interfere with...
Depression is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts and affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one...
Diabetic Ketoacidosis (Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Complications)
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a complication of type 1 diabetes that is life threatening. If a person thinks they may have...
Drug addiction is a chronic disease that causes drug-seeking behavior and drug use despite negative consequences to the user and...
Encephalopathy means brain disease, damage, or malfunction. Causes of encephalopathy are varied and numerous. The main symptom of...
Fungal meningitis is a rare disease that is not contagious. Symptoms include fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, and vomiting....
Heat stroke (heatstroke or sun stroke) is a form of hyperthermia. Heat stroke is a true medical emergency that can be fatal if...
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes HIV infection and the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Symptoms and signs...
Is Meningitis Contagious?
Meningitis, inflammation of the meninges, symptoms and signs include neck stiffness, headache, and fever. There are five types of...
Kidney Failure (Symptoms, Signs, Stages, Causes, Treatment, and Life Expectancy)
Kidney failure can occur from an acute event or a chronic condition or disease. Prerenal kidney failure is caused by blood loss,...
Lewy Body Dementia (Dementia with Lewy Bodies)
Lewy body dementia (LBD or dementia with Lewy bodies) is one the most common causes of dementia. There are two types of LBD: 1)...
Listeria is a type of bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Listeriosis symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, and fever. Pregnant...
Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)
Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is a syndrome in which a person's blood sugar is dangerously low. People with type 1 and type 2...
Malaria is a disease that is spread by the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito. Malaria symptoms include fever, chills,...
Mental health is an optimal way of thinking, relating to others, and feeling. All of the diagnosable mental disorders fall under...
Mucormycosis (zygomycosis) is a fungal infection caused by Zygomycetes. Symptoms and signs include fever, headache, coughing,...
Narcolepsy (Definition, Symptoms, Treatment, Medication)
Causes of narcolepsy, a chronic disease of the central nervous system, have not been fully determined. Some theories include...
Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is a syndrome that is associated with shrinking of the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain....
Reye's syndrome (RS or Reye syndrome) is a sudden, sometimes fatal, disease of the brain with degeneration of the liver. Reye...
Second Source article from Government...
Schizoaffective disorder is a mental illness that features schizophrenia and a mood disorder, either major depression or bipolar...
Schizophrenia is a disabling brain disorder that may cause hallucinations and delusions and affect a person's ability to...
Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which the person has seizures. There are two kinds of seizures, focal and generalized. There are...
Seizures Symptoms and Types
Seizures are divided into two categories: generalized and partial. Generalized seizures are produced by electrical impulses from...
Sepsis (blood poisoning) is a potentially deadly infection with signs and symptoms that include elevated heart rate, low or high...
Medical shock is a life-threatening medical condition. There are several types of medical shock, including: septic shock,...
Anabolic steroids are synthetic substances that are related to testosterone and promote skeletal muscle growth and the...
Stroke (Signs, Symptoms, Warning Signs)
A stroke is an interruption of the blood supply to part of the brain caused by either a blood clot (ischemic) or bleeding...
Suicide is the process of intentionally ending one's own life. Approximately 1 million people worldwide commit suicide each year,...
Teen Drug Abuse
Drugs commonly abused by teens include tobacco products, marijuana, cold medications, inhalants, depressants, stimulants,...
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA, Mini-Stroke)
When a portion of the brain loses blood supply, through a blood clot or embolus, a transient ischemic attack (TIA, mini-stroke)...
Other Causes of Altered Mental Status
- Brain Infections/Abscesses
- Decompression Sickness
- Drug Overdose
- High Altitude Cerebral Edema
- Infection of the Brain or CNS
- Korsakoff Syndrome
- Lipid Storage Diseases
- Liver Failure
- Respiratory Failure
- Severe Hemorrhage
- Thyroid Storm
- Vascular Dementia
- Wernicke Syndrome
- Wilson Disease
- Withdrawal From Drug or Alcohol Dependence
Examples of Medications for Altered Mental Status
Mental Health Resources
Subscribe to MedicineNet's General Health Newsletter