What Does Lethargy Mean?
is a symptom that causes you to feel sleepy or fatigued and sluggish. This
sluggishness may be in terms of movements or in thinking. You’re described as
lethargic if you have these symptoms.
can be related to an underlying physical or mental condition.
What Are the Symptoms of Lethargy?
Lethargy can cause some or all of the following
- changes in mood
- decreased alertness/ability
- low energy
People with lethargy may act as if they are in a
daze. They may move more slowly than they usually do.
What Causes Lethargy?
Many kinds of acute illnesses can make you feel
lethargic. This includes the flu or a stomach virus. Other physical medical
conditions can also cause lethargy. These include:
- carbon monoxide poisoning
- hydrocephalus (brain
- kidney failure
- Lyme disease
- pituitary diseases, such as
- poor nutrition
- sleep apnea
- traumatic brain injury
Lethargy can be the result of mental health-related
medical conditions. These include:
- major depression
- postpartum depression
- premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Lethargy can also be a side effect of taking certain
medications. Taking narcotic medications can cause lethargy. You shouldn’t exceed
your recommended dosage for this reason.
When Do I Seek Medical Help for Lethargy?
Lethargy can be a symptom that requires emergency medical
attention. This is especially true if lethargy symptoms come on suddenly.
Additional symptoms that may require emergency medical attention:
- chest pain
- unresponsiveness or minimally responsiveness
- inability to move the limbs on one side of the body
- disorientation (e.g., not knowing date, name, or
- fast heartbeat
- facial drooping on one side
- loss of consciousness
- rectal bleeding
- severe headache
- shortness of breath
- vomiting blood
Any noticeable, marked changes in behavior accompanied by
lethargy are often cause for concern. Seek immediate medical attention if you
experience thoughts of harming yourself as well as lethargy.
Babies or young children can also experience lethargy.
Symptoms in babies that may need immediate medical attention include:
- difficult to rouse
- fever greater than 102 degrees Fahrenheit
- dehydration symptoms, such as crying without tears,
dry mouth, or few wet diapers
- sudden rash
- vomiting forcefully, especially for more than 12
You may also want to make an appointment at your doctor’s office
if you have any of these symptoms as well as lethargy:
- aches and pains that don’t go away with treatment
- difficulty sleeping
- difficulty tolerating hot or cold temperatures
- eye irritation
- fatigue that lasts longer than two weeks
- feeling sad or empty frequently
- swollen neck glands
- unexplained weight gain or loss
How Is Lethargy Diagnosed?
Your doctor will often take a full medical history
and then do a physical exam to figure out why you are experiencing lethargy. Obtaining
a medical history includes discussing any medical conditions you may have previously
experienced. The medical examination may include listening to your heart and
lungs, testing for bowel sounds, and evaluating your mental awareness.
Diagnostic testing typically depends on what the
doctor suspects may be an underlying cause. For example, if a thyroid disorder
is suspected, your doctor may order blood tests to determine if your thyroid
hormones are high or low.
Your doctor may order imaging studies if they
suspect a head injury, stroke, meningitis, or other brain-related disorder is
the cause. The imaging studies could include a computed tomography (CT) or
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to determine if there are any
abnormalities in the brain.
How Is Lethargy Treated?
Treatment for lethargy depends upon its underlying
cause. Your doctor may prescribe medications to resolve an infection or to
increase thyroid hormones. They may prescribe antidepressants if depression or
another mental health-related disorder is the cause.
Remember that you can practice healthy habits at
home to reduce fatigue-related symptoms if you experience lethargy. Examples
- drinking plenty of fluids
- eating a healthy diet
- getting plenty of sleep
- reducing stress levels
See a doctor if these healthy habits don’t help your symptoms go