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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Medical Symptoms > Confusion


Alternate Names : Confusional State, Mental Dysfunction

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

Confusion is an abnormal mental condition or state of mind. A person who is confused has trouble understanding the environment and may react or respond inappropriately to it.

What is going on in the body?

Confusion is often a sign of an underlying problem or illness. The causes range from mild to serious. Confusion may come on suddenly or may occur gradually over time. Many causes of confusion are reversible.

What are the causes and risks of the symptom?

There are many possible causes of confusion, including:

  • being in an unfamiliar situation. For example, roughly 30% of people who get admitted to a hospital intensive care unit become confused during their stay. Being sick and in an unusual situation causes enough stress to make many people become confused.
  • a sudden illness, especially when the illness is severe. This is most likely to occur in young children and elderly persons. Even the flu can cause confusion in some people. Other infections, such as the brain infections meningitis and encephalitis, and a serious blood infection called sepsis, commonly cause confusion.
  • illegal drugs, alcohol, and some medicines
  • withdrawal from drugs or alcohol
  • low blood sugar, known as hypoglycemia
  • head injury
  • brain damage, such as that from Alzheimer disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson disease, a brain tumor, or a stroke
  • fluid and salt imbalances, such as low sodium
  • vitamin or mineral deficiency, such as thiamine or vitamin B12 deficiency
  • chronic or serious infections or illnesses, such as HIV, syphilis, appendicitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cirrhosis, chronic renal failure, anemia, cancer or heart attacks
  • hormone imbalances, such as low thyroid levels or hypothyroidism
  • There are many other causes of confusion. Sometimes, a cause cannot be found.


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    Confusion: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: Adam Brochert, MD
    Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 07/27/01

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