What causes confusion?

There are a number of things that can cause confusion, varying from simple mineral or vitamin deficiencies to underlying medical conditions.

It can be very frightening if you or a loved one is experiencing confusion, so it’s good to speak to a doctor to get reassurance and treatment.

The symptoms of confusion will vary from person to person, and it can come on very quickly, or more slowly over time.

Confusion can also cause unusual and aggressive behavior, which is another reason why it’s good to speak to a doctor, whether it’s yourself or someone that you know who is confused.

Some causes of confusion can include:

  • Dehydration - Not taking in enough water can lead to dehydration and an imbalance of salts in your body. This leads to the body not being able to function correctly, which can lead to confusion and become quite serious if left untreated.
  • Concussion - A brain injury, or concussion, is usually caused by a head trauma and this can lead to impaired judgement or co-ordination. Confusion symptoms from a concussion may not present themselves until a few days after the initial injury.
  • Medication - There are some medications that can lead to confusion symptoms. Withdrawal from a certain medication or taking too much of a prescribed medicine could cause confusion.
  • Alzheimer’s disease – This is the most common cause of dementia (see below). It’s a physical disease that affects the brain gradually, over time.
  • Dementia - If you or someone you care about is confused for a long time, and is older, it could be a sign of dementia. This is caused by a decline in brain function. If you think it could be dementia, speak to a doctor, who can diagnose and suggest treatment.
  • Delirium – This is a sudden change in the way a person’s brain is working. It could be caused by withdrawal of alcohol, drugs or medication, or if a health problem or infection suddenly gets worse.
  • Substance abuse – Alcohol and illegal drugs can cause confusion in people.
  • Infection – Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs), respiratory infections or sepsis can cause confusion.
  • Fever - Seek medical treatment urgently if the person is suffering from a high fever and showing signs of confusion.
  • Stress, anxiety or depression – These mental health conditions may lead to periods of confusion.
  • Stroke or TIA (mini stroke) – Strokes can cause slurred speech, which can be interpreted as confusion. If the sufferer also shows other signs of a stroke, seek urgent medication. This includes their face drooping on one side, not being able to smile, being unable to lift their arms or numbness in their arms or legs.

These are some of the common causes of confusion. However, there are many other things that could lead to the onset of symptoms. A lack of oxygen, a sudden drop of body temperature or a lack of sleep can affect the function of the brain leading to a confused state.

Important Information About Confusion

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 a they have symptoms of a stroke.

If the person who is confused is diabetic, check their blood sugar level if you can, as hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia could be causing the confusion.

They should have a testing device and test strips with them – prick their finger to get some blood and drop it onto a testing strip.

If their blood sugar levels are low, give them something sugary – a drink, sweets or snack – 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.

You can find the target blood sugar levels here.

How do I know if it’s confusion?

Confusion can show itself with many different symptoms. Some of the symptoms include:

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

If you or someone you know are experiencing symptoms of confusion, it is a good idea to speak to a doctor. They can help to identify the causes and provide a treatment plan.

What is the treatment for confusion?

This will depend on the symptoms you’re showing and what they’re a sign of.

For example, if you’re diabetic and suffering from lots of highs, which coincide with your confusion, better management of your condition will be recommended.

If it’s another underlying medical condition that’s causing your confusion, such as dementia, a doctor will be able to offer advice and treatment, or refer you to a specialist for further investigation.

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