Medicine:Psychomotor agitation

From HandWiki
Short description: Spectrum of disorders characterized by unintentional and purposeless motions and restlessness
Psychomotor agitation
Other namesPacing
SpecialtyPsychiatry, emergency medicine

Psychomotor agitation is a symptom related to a spectrum of disorders characterized by unintentional and purposeless motions and restlessness, often but not always accompanied by emotional distress.[1] Typical manifestations include pacing around, wringing of the hands, uncontrolled tongue movement, pulling off clothing and putting it back on, and other similar actions.[2] In more severe cases, the motions may become harmful to the individual, and may involve things such as ripping, tearing, or chewing at the skin around one's fingernails, lips, or other body parts to the point of bleeding. Psychomotor agitation is typically found in major depressive disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, and sometimes the manic phase in bipolar disorder, though it can also be a result of an excess intake of stimulants. It can also be caused by severe hyponatremia. The middle-aged and the elderly are more at risk to express it.

Signs and symptoms

People experiencing psychomotor agitation may feel or do:

  • unable to sit still
  • fidgeting
  • as if their body is stiff
  • unable to relieve tension
  • desperate to find a comfortable position
  • increasingly anxious
  • exasperated
  • tearful
  • extreme irritability, like snapping at friends and family, or being annoyed at small things
  • anger
  • agitation
  • racing thoughts and incessant talking
  • restlessness
  • pacing
  • hand-wringing
  • nail-biting
  • outbursts of complaining or shouting
  • pulling at clothes or hair
  • picking at skin
  • tapping fingers
  • tapping feet
  • starting and stopping tasks abruptly
  • talking very quickly
  • moving objects around for no reason
  • taking off clothes then putting them back on


Causes include:[3]

As explained in a 2008 study, in people with mood disorders there is a dynamic link between their mood and the way they move.[7]

People showing signs of psychomotor agitation may be experiencing mental tension and anxiety, which comes out physically as:

  • fast or repetitive movements
  • movements that have no purpose
  • movements that are not intentional

These activities are the subconscious mind's way of trying to relieve tension. Often people experiencing psychomotor agitation feel as if their movements are not deliberate.

Sometimes, however, psychomotor agitation does not relate to mental tension and anxiety.

Recent studies found that nicotine withdrawal induces psychomotor agitation (motor deficit).[8][9][10][11]

In other cases, psychomotor agitation can be caused by antipsychotic medications. For instance, akathisia, a movement disorder sometimes induced by antipsychotics and other psychotropics, is estimated to affect 15-35% of patients with schizophrenia.[12][13]


Intramuscular midazolam, lorazepam, or another benzodiazepine can be used to both sedate agitated patients, and control semi-involuntary muscle movements in cases of suspected akathisia.

Droperidol, haloperidol, or other typical antipsychotics can decrease the duration of agitation caused by acute psychosis, but should be avoided if the agitation is suspected to be akathisia, which can be potentially worsened.[14] Also using promethazine may be useful.[15] Recently, three atypical antipsychotics, olanzapine, aripiprazole and ziprasidone, have become available and FDA approved as an instant release intramuscular injection formulations to control acute agitation. The IM formulations of these three atypical antipsychotics are considered to be at least as effective or even more effective than the IM administration of haloperidol alone or haloperidol with lorazepam[16][17][18] (which is the standard treatment of agitation in most hospitals) and the atypicals have a dramatically improved tolerability due to a milder side-effect profile.

In those with psychosis causing agitation there is a lack of support for the use of benzodiazepines alone, however they are commonly used in combination with antipsychotics since they can prevent side effects associated with dopamine antagonists.[19]

Also, introducing the following lifestyle changes to their routine may help a person to reduce their anxiety levels:[7]

See also


  1. Scaccia, Annamarya (April 25, 2017). "Everything You Should Know About Psychomotor Agitation". 
  2. Burgess, Lana (October 16, 2017). "What is psychomotor agitation?". 
  3. Causes of Psychomotor agitation , Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  4. "Agitation and Irritability in Alzheimer's Disease: Evidenced-Based Treatments and the Black-Box Warning". Current Psychiatry Reports 18 (1): 3. January 2016. doi:10.1007/s11920-015-0640-7. PMID 26695173. 
  5. "Acute Intermittent Porphyria (AIP)". American Porphyria Foundation. 2009-02-18. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Agitated Depression: Symptoms, Treatment, and Outlook". Healthline. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "What is psychomotor agitation?". Medical News Today. 
  8. "Effects of abstinence from tobacco: valid symptoms and time course". Nicotine Tob Res 9 (3): 315–327. 2007. doi:10.1080/14622200701188919. PMID 17365764. 
  9. "Diverging effects of nicotine on motor learning performance: Improvement in deprived smokers and attenuation in non-smokers". Addict. Behav. 74: 90–97. 2017. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2017.05.017. PMID 28600927. 
  10. "Differential behavioral and molecular alterations upon protracted abstinence from cocaine versus morphine, nicotine, THC and alcohol". Addiction Biology 22 (5): 1205–1217. 2017. doi:10.1111/adb.12405. PMID 27126842. 
  11. "Chronic nicotine impairs sparse motor learning via striatal fast‐spiking parvalbumin interneurons". Addiction Biology Early View (3): e12956. 2020. doi:10.1111/adb.12956. PMID 32767546. 
  12. "Akathisia: prevalence and risk factors in a community-dwelling sample of patients with schizophrenia. Results from the FACE-SZ dataset". Schizophrenia Research 169 (1–3): 255–261. December 2015. doi:10.1016/j.schres.2015.10.040. PMID 26589388. 
  13. "Revisiting Antipsychotic-induced Akathisia: Current Issues and Prospective Challenges". Current Neuropharmacology 15 (5): 789–798. 2017-06-15. doi:10.2174/1570159X14666161208153644. PMID 27928948. 
  14. "Randomized controlled trial of intramuscular droperidol versus midazolam for violence and acute behavioral disturbance: the DORM study". Annals of Emergency Medicine 56 (4): 392–401.e1. October 2010. doi:10.1016/j.annemergmed.2010.05.037. PMID 20868907. 
  15. "Haloperidol for psychosis-induced aggression or agitation (rapid tranquillisation)". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 7: CD009377. July 2017. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009377.pub3. PMID 28758203. 
  16. "Intramuscular olanzapine versus intramuscular haloperidol plus lorazepam for the treatment of acute schizophrenia with agitation: An open-label, randomized controlled trial". Journal of the Formosan Medical Association = Taiwan Yi Zhi 114 (5): 438–45. May 2015. doi:10.1016/j.jfma.2015.01.018. PMID 25791540. 
  17. "Ziprasidone versus haloperidol for the treatment of agitation". Annals of Emergency Medicine 44 (4): S22. October 2004. doi:10.1016/j.annemergmed.2004.07.073. 
  18. "Management of agitation in the acute psychotic patient--efficacy without excessive sedation" (in English). European Neuropsychopharmacology 17 Suppl 2: S108-14. March 2007. doi:10.1016/j.euroneuro.2007.02.004. PMID 17336765. 
  19. "Benzodiazepines for psychosis-induced aggression or agitation". The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 4 (4): CD003079. April 2013. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003079.pub3. PMID 23633309. 

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