What Is Irritability?

Irritability is defined as a feeling of agitation. Irritability may cause a person to become frustrated, annoyed, or agitated. Most people will experience irritability in their life, as it is a common reaction to stressful situations. Irritability that doesn’t go away however, can be an indication of an underlying medical or mood disorder.

What Causes Irritability?

Both adults and children can experience irritability. Stressful situations are the most common cause for irritability, and it is considered normal for a person to feel irritable from time to time. Day to day events such as traffic, problems at work or school, and relationship issues can all contribute to irritability.

Irritability is typically categorised as stemming from a psychological or physical cause. Common psychological causes of irritability include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Autism
  • Schizophrenia

Common physical causes of irritability include:

  • Insomnia
  • Flu
  • Toothache
  • Low blood sugar
  • Diabetes

There are also several medical conditions that can cause irritability. Changes in the hormonal system caused by menopause, perimenopause, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and hyperthyroidism can all cause an individual to feel irritable.

Other causes of irritability can include: drug use, alcohol abuse, drug and alcohol withdrawal, nicotine withdrawal, and a side-effect from a prescription medication.


The most common symptoms of irritability include annoyance and feeling frustrated or worked up. Symptoms that are often associated with irritability can include:

  • Anger
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Hair loss
  • Decreased sex drive


Treating irritability is dependent upon what is causing a person to feel irritated. The diagnosis a person receives after speaking with their doctor will ultimately determine the type of treatment they receive.

For cases of irritability associated with depression or anxiety, a person may receive prescription medication to help manage their symptoms. Therapy is also commonly used to help people suffering from a mental condition to help overcome their problems. Medication and therapy are often used in combination to help a person overcome irritability and the underlying mental condition causing it.

Irritability caused by hormonal changes may be treated with hormone replacement therapy. Hormone supplements can help a person bring balance back to the hormonal system. This type of treatment is best taken under the supervision of a medical professional who can determine what supplements will work best for what an individual is experiencing.

Lifestyle changes can also be used to treat irritability. Getting the right amount of sleep each night, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, and getting regular exercise can help a person manage their mood and experience less feelings of irritability.

For individuals experiencing irritability due to drug or alcohol abuse, addiction treatment or rehab may be recommended. This may include a medically supervised detox combined with medication, talk therapy, and a variety of treatments designed for substance abuse recovery.

Irritability FAQ

How can a person reduce the irritability they experience?

A person can work to control the irritability they have by helping to bring themselves down when these feelings strike, or avoiding things that make them feel this way. Ways to do this include: recognising the source of the irritability, reducing caffeine and alcohol consumption, trying to gain a different perspective, practicing different relaxation techniques, and ensuring they have sufficient quiet or alone time each day.

Is irritability a sign of depression?

It can be. Irritability is a common symptom of depression in children, teens, and adults. Being irritable however, does not necessarily mean a person is suffering from depression.

Can certain medical conditions contribute to irritability?

Yes. Chronic pain has shown to significantly increase a person’s likeliness to feel irritable. Certain genetic conditions (such as Huntington’s disease) can also cause irritability. Certain medications (such as prescription opioids) can also cause irritability as a side-effect.

External Links

Irritable mood, HealthLine

7 Quick Ways to Stop Feeling Irritable, Psychology Today

Extreme Irritability: When You’re Beyond Cranky, USNews

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