Acute agitation is a nonspecific term applied to an array of syndromes and behaviors. It is frequently defined as an increase in psychomotor activity, aggression, disinhibition/impulsivity, and irritable or labile mood. Etiologies of acute agitation include medical disorders, delirium, substance intoxication or withdrawal, psychiatric disorders, and medication side effects. Treatment of acute agitation requires both environmental and pharmacologic intervention. Patients should be calmed with sedating agents early in the course of treatment, allowing for diagnostic tests to take place. Failure to correctly diagnose causes of agitation may lead to delayed treatment for serious conditions, and can even exacerbate agitation.The most common cause of agitation in patients with schizophrenia is psychotic relapse due to medication nonadherence. Pharmacologic treatment options for these patients include lorazepam and antipsychotic agents. Lorazepam causes nonspecific sedation and treats some substance withdrawal, but has little effect on psychosis. First-generation antipsychotics treat psychosis and, at high enough doses, cause sedation, but may induce extrapyramidal side effects (EPS). Some second-generation antipsychotics have been approved for the treatment of agitation in schizophrenia. These agents treat psychosis with a favorable EPS profile, but are comparatively expensive and cause risks such as hypotension. However, avoiding EPS may reduce patients' resistance to antipsychotic treatment.
In this expert roundtable supplement, Joseph Battaglia, MD, provides an overview of the definition of acute agitation. Next, Delbert, G. Robinson, MD, outlines evaluation methods for actue agitation. Finally, Leslie Citrome, MD, MPH, reviews interventions for acute and ongoing management of agitation.