Read below about irritability, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your irritability from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

This symptom can also be referred to as:
Easily frustrated

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Irritability Symptoms

For most of us, "irritability" is a negative trait and refers to a person who is overreacting to normal life. People we consider irritable react very strongly to minor inconveniences or what they consider inconveniences. Likewise, sometimes specific systems can be irritable, such as an "irritable bowel," where the intestinal tract is overreacting to stress, foods, medicines, germs, or other stimuli.

It’s also common to have a bad day and experience irritability oneself from time to time. However, we’re going to discuss symptoms of recurrent or constant irritability.

Characteristics:

  • Easily annoyed.
  • Quick to anger.
  • A tendency towards aggression when it is not called for.
  • Having a short fuse.
  • Outbursts of rage, with verbal and sometimes physical abuse of others. Infants and young children may be hard to soothe.

Duration:

  • Irritability tends to be a chronic condition in adults
  • Inconsolability in infants may often fade as they get older, though sometimes this persists into childhood.

Who is most often affected by irritability?

  • Infants, especially those born to drug-addicted mothers.
  • Anyone with chronic pain from disease, injury, or emotional causes.
  • Older people with health problems and/or psychological issues.
  • People withdrawing from drugs and medications

Is irritability serious?

  • Occasionally feeling frustrated with daily life, or simply "having a bad day," is completely normal. Being angry is also a normal emotion.
  • Frequent irritability that is accompanied by verbal outbursts, raging, breaking objects, or even violence towards other people is a sign of physical and/or psychological illness. This is serious and needs attention.

Irritability Causes Overview

Many conditions can have irritability as a symptom. These can involve solely a physical or psychological cause, or sometimes a combination of the two.

Physical causes:

  • Chronic pain from injury.
  • Chronic illness.
  • Medications and withdrawal.
  • Drug use or withdrawal, especially of alcohol and opiates.
  • Infants born to drug-addicted mothers

Psychological causes:

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Isolation.
  • Relationship conflicts.

9 Potential Irritability Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.Uterine Fibroids

    Uterine fibroids are noncancerous tumors in the uterus. They are common in women of childbearing age.

    Treatment ranges from medication to surgical removal of the fibroid.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    vaginal bleeding, pelvis pain, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), painful periods, irregular period
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Insomnia Disorder

    Insomnia is a very common sleep disorder that prevents one from falling asleep, staying asleep, or a combination of both.

    Condition is treatable with medication and behavior changes.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, mild headache, insomnia
    Symptoms that always occur with insomnia disorder:
    trouble sleeping
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Gad)

    Anxiety is a common emotion from time to time; however, persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worrying are signs of generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder is diagnosed when a person worries more days than not for at least six months and has symptoms like fatigue, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.

    With long-term care, symptoms can be controlled with talk therapy, medication, and self-care.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, trouble sleeping, general anxiety (stress), irritability, nausea
    Symptoms that always occur with generalized anxiety disorder (gad):
    general anxiety (stress)
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Acute Stress Disorder

    Acute stress disorder describes changes in one's mood or memory for less than a month following an emotional or traumatic event.

    Acute stress disorder generally lasts days to 1 month.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    trouble sleeping, anxiety, irritability, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating
    Symptoms that always occur with acute stress disorder:
    impaired social or occupational functioning
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  5. 5.Symptoms of Menopause

    Menopause is the point in life where your period stops. This happens when the ovaries stop making hormones that keep your cycle going. The transition into menopause is called peri-menopause and can include symptoms like hot flashes, shortening of menstrual cycle and mood fluctuations.

    Hot flashes typically peak approximately 1 year after the final period and last 4-10 years. Most women stop having hot flashes 4 years after they start, but 10% of women may have hot flashes up to 12 years after their last period.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, delay in or irregular periods, vaginal discharge, anxiety, trouble sleeping
    Symptoms that always occur with symptoms of menopause:
    delay in or irregular periods
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  6. 6.Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

    Premenstrual dysmorphic disorder is a condition that occurs 5-11 days before menstruation that causes depression-like symptoms, where you have depression-like symptoms, irritability, and tension.

    Symptoms of premenstrual dysmorphic disorder can be managed with a healthy lifestyle. In severe cases, antidepressants may be useful.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, stomach bloating, anxiety, depressed mood, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)
    Symptoms that always occur with premenstrual dysphoric disorder:
    impaired social or occupational functioning, symptoms of depression, anxiety and emotional lability
    Symptoms that never occur with premenstrual dysphoric disorder:
    constant sadness, post-menopausal
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Mild Chronic Depression (Dysthymia)

    Dysthymia, also called persistent depressive disorder, is a form of depression that is chronic. The causes of dysthymia are complex, and often are a combination of biological, genetic, and environmental factors. Dysthymia can interfere with everyday life, and people with this condition report feeling loss of interest in their daily activities, sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of energy.

    Dysthymia can last indefinitely.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, irritability, difficulty concentrating, impaired social or occupational functioning
    Symptoms that always occur with mild chronic depression (dysthymia):
    depressed mood
    Symptoms that never occur with mild chronic depression (dysthymia):
    severe sadness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Recurrent Depression

    Depression, once diagnosed, can often recur with new episodes. Sometimes these episodes can be similar to ones in the past, sometimes the symptoms can be different. It's good to be aware off the fact that people who had a depression before, remain vulnerable.

    Depression's course is highly variable, and it may last weeks, months, or years.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, headache, stomach bloating
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Premenstrual Syndrome

    Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a very common condition. PMS has a variety of symptoms including cramping, mood swings, food cravings, fatigue, irritability, breast tenderness & depression.

    Symptoms of premenstrual syndrome can last all the way into menopause.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    stomach bloating, anxiety, constipation, depressed mood, breast pain
    Symptoms that never occur with premenstrual syndrome:
    constant sadness, severe sadness, post-menopausal
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

Irritability Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if:

  • You feel severely depressed and are having thoughts of suicide.
  • You feel very angry and are having thoughts of harming others.
  • Someone you know is suicidal, homicidal, or threatened by someone else.

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Chronic irritability, anger, and frustration. The most important part of dealing with irritability is finding the underlying cause.
  • Your primary medical provider can refer you for treatment to the appropriate specialist for treatment of physical causes:
  • An internist can test for underlying illnesses.
  • A pain management specialist can treat cases of chronic pain.
  • A nutritionist can advise about possible deficiencies.
  • A drug and alcohol specialist can help you treat addiction.
  • You can also be referred for psychological causes of irritability:

    • A psychiatrist treats cases of chemically based mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
    • A psychologist can work with you to treat depression and anxiety.
    • A counselor helps with any relationship issues you may be experiencing, including marriage and familial relationships.

Remedies that you can try at home:

  • Improvements in sleep, diet, and exercise can go a long way towards relieving stress.
  • Making more time for friends and a normal social life can also help greatly in improving mood and easing depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

FAQs About Irritability

Here are some frequently asked questions about irritability.

What are the common causes of irritability?

Irritability may be caused by many things. Most commonly, it is caused by emotional duress or stress. It can also be a sign of systemic physical illness or mental illness. Irritability is difficult to diagnose as individuals have different thresholds of irritability and/or expressions of being irritated.

Can anxiety cause anger and irritability?

Yes. Irritability is defined as an increased propensity toward anger and can be a manifestation of anxiety. When individuals experience something that makes them anxious or afraid, increased amount of stress hormones (e.g. cortisol) get excreted. These hormones activate a "flight or flight" system and cause an individual to respond with emotions such as anger or irritability.

Is irritability a sign of depression?

Irritability can be a sign of depression. Studies have found that individuals with clinically diagnosed depression have a higher level of stress hormones than those without depression. These stress hormones can cause an individual to more easily feel angry, anxious, and irritated. Medical professionals can use this observed increase in irritability as a marker of someone with depression.

When is irritability a sign of a more serious condition?

Irritability may be a sign of a more serious condition if it is accompanied by any of the following phenomena: a sudden change in personality, any non-characteristic or dangerous actions to one's self or others, other persistent physical symptoms, changes in senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing) or changes in physical motion.

What type of behavior characterized irritability?

Irritability in children is characterized by an increased level of general hostility, or increased frequency of crying, fussing, hitting, biting, or kicking. In adults, irritability can manifest as increased level of hostility, decreased threshold for hostility, or increased propensity to worry.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Irritability

  • Q.Do you have trouble sleeping?
  • Q.Are you having difficulty concentrating or thinking through daily activities?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Are your symptoms causing difficulty at work, socializing, or spending time with friends & family?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our irritability symptom checker to find out more.

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Irritability Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced irritability have also experienced:

    • 10% Fatigue
    • 3% Depressed Mood
    • 3% Anxiety
  • People who have experienced irritability had symptoms persist for:

    • 42% Over a Month
    • 21% Less Than a Week
    • 18% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced irritability were most often matched with:

    • 12% Insomnia Disorder
    • 4% Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Gad)
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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