What causes confusion?
Confusion may be associated with serious infections, some chronic medical conditions, head injury, brain or spinal cord tumor, delirium, stroke, or dementia. It can be caused by alcohol or drug intoxication, sleep disorders, chemical or electrolyte imbalances, vitamin deficiencies, or medications. It can also occur in the period following a seizure, called the postictal period, or as a result of hypothermia.
Common causes of confusion
Confusion may be caused by conditions including:
- Chemical or electrolyte imbalances
- Chronic kidney disease (which includes any type of kidney problem such as kidney stones, kidney failure, and kidney anomalies)
- Chronic liver disease (which includes any type of liver problem such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis)
- Congestive heart failure (deterioration of the heart’s ability to pump blood)
- Drug or alcohol intoxication
- Medication side effects
- Seizure disorders
- Severe dehydration
- Sleep deprivation or disturbances
- Vitamin deficiencies such as niacin, thiamine, vitamin B12, or vitamin C deficiency
Serious or life-threatening causes of confusion
In some cases, confusion may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:
- Brain or spinal cord injury or tumor
- Drug or alcohol overdose
- Encephalitis (inflammation and swelling of the brain due to a viral infection or other causes)
- Heat stroke
- Kidney failure
- Meningitis (infection of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord)
- Sepsis (severe infection of the bloodstream)
Questions for diagnosing the cause of confusion
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your confusion including:
- When did you first notice confusion?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
- Do you have any difficulty sleeping?
- Did anything such as an injury or illness precede the symptoms?
- Do you have any other medical conditions?
- What medications are you taking? Are you taking any new medications?
- Have you taken any street drugs?
- Do you drink alcohol?
What are the potential complications of confusion?
Because confusion can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Paralysis or inability to move a body part
- Permanent cognitive impairment
- Permanent loss of sensation
- Personality changes
- Physical disability
- Unconsciousness and coma
NINDS dementia information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/dementias/dementia.htm. Accessed May 2, 2011.
Confusion. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003205.htm. Accessed May 2, 2011.
What is confusion?
Confusion occurs when a person has difficulty understanding a situation or has disordered or unclear thoughts. It can be accompanied by memory loss, disorientation, or the inability to think quickly.... Read more about confusionintroduction