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Temporary Confusion or Decreased Alertness

Topic Overview

Many health problems cause confusion or decreased alertness. It is not unusual for a person who is sick to be sleepy or confused when he or she wakes up. But extreme sleepiness may be a symptom of a more serious health problem.

Confusion may range from mild to severe. Symptoms of confusion may include:

  • Jumbled or disorganized thoughts.
  • Unusual, bizarre, or aggressive behavior.
  • Having trouble solving problems or doing tasks that used to be easy for you.
  • Not knowing where you are or not recognizing family members or familiar items.
  • Firmly held but false beliefs (delusions).
  • Seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, or tasting things that are not really there (hallucinations or illusions).
  • Unfounded suspicions that others are after you or want to harm you (paranoia).

Decreased alertness occurs when a person is not fully awake, aware of, or able to respond normally to his or her external environment. Decreased alertness may also mean that a chronic illness has gotten worse.

A sudden change in the mental state or level of consciousness may be caused by:

Other problems that may lead to confusion or decreased alertness include:

  • Decreased hearing or vision.
  • Electrolyte imbalances, such as low levels of sodium and potassium in the blood.
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or high blood sugar (hyperglycemia).
  • Malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies.
  • Sleep problems, such as the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep (insomnia) or sleep apnea.

A complete medical examination may be needed before the cause of your confusion or decreased alertness can be diagnosed. Treatment depends on the cause of the problem. Contact your doctor for an exam if you are having problems with confusion or decreased alertness.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer David Messenger, MD
Current as of June 4, 2014

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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