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J Psychiatr Pract. 2011 May;17(3):170-85. doi: 10.1097/01.pra.0000398410.21374.7d.

Agitation in the inpatient psychiatric setting: a review of clinical presentation, burden, and treatment.

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1
BioMedEcon, LLC, Moss Beach, CA 94038, USA. chankin@biomedecon.com

Abstract

Agitation among psychiatric inpatients (particularly those diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder) is common and, unless recognized early and managed effectively, can rapidly escalate to potentially dangerous behaviors, including physical violence. Inpatient aggression and violence have substantial adverse psychological and physical consequences for both patients and providers, and they are costly to the healthcare system. In contrast to the commonly held view that inpatient violence occurs without warning or can be predicted by "static" risk factors, such as patient demographics or clinical characteristics, research indicates that violence is usually preceded by observable behaviors, especially non-violent agitation. When agitation is recognized, staff should employ nonpharmacological de-escalation strategies and, if the behavior continues, offer pharmacological treatment to calm patients rapidly. Given the poor therapeutic efficacy and potential for adverse events associated with physical restraint and seclusion, and the potential adverse sequelae of involuntary drug treatment, these interventions should be considered last resorts. Pharmacological agents used to treat agitation include benzodiazepines and first- and second-generation antipsychotic drugs. Although no currently available agent is ideal, recommendations for selecting among them are provided. There remains an unmet need for a non-invasive and rapidly acting agent that effectively calms without excessively sedating patients, addresses the patient's underlying psychiatric symptoms, and is reasonably safe and tolerable. A treatment with these characteristics could substantially reduce the clinical and economic burden of agitation in the inpatient psychiatric setting.

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