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.
Related Symptoms & Signs
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
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Causes of Altered Mental Status
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Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse
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Bipolar Disorder in Children, Teens, and Adults
Bipolar disorder (or manic depression) is a mental illness characterized by depression, mania, and severe mood swings. Treatment may incorporate mood-stabilizer medications, antidepressants, and psychotherapy.
Brief Psychotic Disorder
Brief psychotic disorder is a short-term mental illness that features psychotic symptoms. There are three forms of brief psychotic disorder. The first occurs shortly after a major stress, the second has no apparent trauma that triggers the illness, and the third is associated with postpartum onset. Symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, unusual behavior, disorientation, changes in eating and sleeping, and speech that doesn't make sense. Treatment typically involves medication and psychotherapy.
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Drug Abuse and Addiction
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Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
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Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)
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Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA, Mini-Stroke)
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When Should You Tell Someone You Have a Mental Illness?
When you decide to discuss mental illness with anyone in your life, make a plan for what you want to say.
Examples of Medications for Altered Mental Status
Mental Health Resources
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