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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:

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  • 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:

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.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: January 07, 2013
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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