Confusion describes a state of being unsure of time, place and identity – a confused person is not sure of the time or day, where they are, and who they are.

There are a great many causes for confusion but the most common are:

  • Alcohol and drug intoxication
  • Psychosis (a psychiatric condition characterised by being out-of-touch with reality)
  • Fever (hyperthermia) – usually as a part of an infective illness like ‘flu
  • Low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • Low blood sugar (e.g. starvation or diabetes)
  • Diabetic comas (either low or high blood sugar type)
  • Head injury
  • Epilepsy (confusion is common for some time after a seizure)
  • Stroke (often in association with weakness or paralysis)
  • Hypoxia (low levels of oxygen, often due to lung or heart conditions)
  • Medications (several medications can cause confusion)
  • Alzheimer’s disease (usually a gradual onset with associated memory loss)
  • Certain nutritional deficiencies (especially vitamin B deficiencies)

Your doctor will often need the help of family and friends when assessing a confused person. It is important to decide if the diagnosis is physical or psychological. She will perform a detailed physical examination (as well as checking blood sugar and performing a simple urine “dipstix’ test) and may request some tests, including:

  • CT scan of the head/brain – an advanced computer-assisted X-ray technique that creates detailed images of the head and brain.
  • Blood tests that check for alcohol or drug levels.

Many causes of confusion are reversible, or at least treatable – any confused person should be medically assessed.

Author: Dr Colin Burns, retired medical practitioner and wellness coach