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What is confusion?

Confusion can display itself in a number of ways, with the most common being the inability to concentrate or think clearly, feeling disorientated and forgetting things.

It can come on quickly, or more slowly over a period of time and can be caused by a number of factors, such as low blood sugar or an infection, or a longer term condition such as dementia.

What are the different symptoms of confusion?

The symptoms of confusion can be different from person to person. However, there are common ones that may help you recognise the condition.

Some of the symptoms of confusion are:

  • Forgetting what task is being performed
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Feeling disorientated
  • Long pauses between speech
  • Slurred words
  • Not being able to remember things
  • Lack of awareness

Take a look at a complete list of confusion symptoms.

If you or someone you know are experiencing confusion and it is affecting yours or their daily life, then it is a good idea to speak to a doctor. They can help to identify the causes and provide a treatment plan.

How is confusion diagnosed?

A GP will usually use a questionnaire to assess how confusion is impacting someone, which is made up of a number of set questions designed to find the cause.

If the doctor isn’t able to give a diagnosis, they can refer you for further specialist investigations and treatment.

To find out more about what will happen during the consultation with our doctors, click here.

Is confusion a medical emergency?

The causes of confusion can be varied. It could be something as simple as a urine infection or something more serious like dehydration, or even an external factor, like carbon monoxide poisoning.

If the confusion comes on suddenly, take the person to the nearest hospital or call 999, especially if they are displaying other symptoms, such as their lips going blue, or they can’t move one of their limbs.

If the person who is confused is diabetic, if you know how, check their blood sugar, as hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia could be making them confused.

If their blood sugar levels are low, give them something sugary to eat or drink and wait 10 minutes before testing again. If they don’t improve, take them to hospital or call 999.

If their blood sugar is high, take them to hospital or call 999.

Read more about the causes of confusion.

What causes confusion?

When you speak to a doctor, they will try to find the underlying cause of the confusion you are experiencing by discussing the symptoms, your past medical history and any other factors that may be contributing to it.

  • Certain medical conditions can affect the systems of the body and these, in turn, can affect brain function and result in confusion. Discussing all symptoms, however minor you think they are, will allow the doctor to give you a diagnosis or refer you to a specialist, and develop a treatment plan.
  • Stress or anxiety may lead to periods of confusion and a doctor will be able to identify and treat the issue.
  • Medication can result in confusion. Taking too much, withdrawal or adapting to a new medicine could be the cause.
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning can also make people confused – a doctor may ask if anyone you live with has been unwell too, as this could be a sign that this could be the cause.

These are just a few things that can be causing confusion. Read more about the other causes of confusion.

How is confusion treated?

The cause of the symptoms of confusion will dictate the treatment given. The best way to get the right treatment is by speaking to a doctor. As soon as you recognise the symptoms, whether it is in yourself, or in someone else, seek help.

Confusion caused by another medical condition may require medication or another type of treatment to resolve the underlying cause.

When the initial medical problem is resolved or under control, the confusion symptoms should hopefully cease. However, in some more severe cases, they can be permanent, or could gradually get worse. Treatment may be able to slow this down.

The treatment plan that you will receive will be tailored to your specific situation to make it as effective as possible.

Find out more about how confusion is treated.