Unable to Concentrate
Unable to concentrate is the inability to maintain attention and focus on a task or being easily distracted.

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What Does Unable to Concentrate Mean?

You rely on concentration to get through work or school every day. When you’re unable to concentrate, you can’t think clearly, focus on a task, or maintain your attention.

Your performance at work or school could be affected if you can’t concentrate. You may also find that you can’t think as well, which can affect your decision-making. A number of medical conditions may contribute to or cause inability to concentrate. It’s not always a medical emergency, but being unable to concentrate can warrant medical attention.

What Are the Symptoms of Being Unable to Concentrate?

Being unable to concentrate affects people differently. Some symptoms you may experience include:

  • being unable to remember things that occurred a short time ago
  • difficulty sitting still
  • difficulty thinking clearly
  • frequently losing things or difficulty remembering where things are
  • inability to make decisions
  • inability to perform complicated tasks
  • lack of focus
  • lacking physical or mental energy to concentrate
  • making careless mistakes

You may notice that it’s harder to concentrate at certain times of day or in certain settings. Others may comment that you appear distracted. You may miss appointments or meetings because of a lack of focus.

What Are the Causes of Being Unable to Concentrate?

Being unable to concentrate can be the result of a chronic condition, including:

  • alcoholism or alcohol abuse
  • attention deficit disorder
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • concussion
  • Cushing disease
  • dementia
  • epilepsy
  • insomnia
  • major depressive disorder
  • mental disorders, such as schizophrenia
  • restless leg syndrome

Lifestyle changes that affect your concentration include:

  • lack of sleep
  • hunger
  • anxiety
  • excess stress

Being unable to concentrate is also a side effect of some medications. Read the insert carefully. Contact your doctor or pharmacist to determine if your medications may be affecting your concentration. Don’t stop taking any medications unless your doctor says to.

When Do I Seek Medical Help for Being Unable to Concentrate?

You should get immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms in addition to being unable to concentrate:

  • loss of consciousness
  • numbness or tingling on one side of your body
  • severe chest pain
  • severe headache
  • sudden, unexplained memory loss
  • unawareness of where you are

Make an appointment to see your doctor if you experience the following symptoms:

  • affected memory that is worse than usual
  • decreased performance in work or school
  • difficulty sleeping
  • unusual feelings of tiredness

You should also make an appointment to see your doctor if being unable to concentrate affects your abilities to go through daily life or enjoy your life.

How Is Being Unable to Concentrate Diagnosed?

Diagnosing your condition could involve a variety of tests because there are many causes. Your doctor will start by gathering a health history as well as discussing your symptoms. Questions asked may include, “When did you first notice this condition?” and “When is your ability to concentrate better/worse?” 

Your doctor may also review medications, supplements, and herbs you may be taking to determine if they could be affecting your concentration.

Taking all this information into consideration, your doctor may be able to make a diagnosis or recommend further testing. He or she may recommend one or more of these tests:

  • blood testing to determine hormone levels
  • computed tomography (CT) scans to view brain abnormalities
  • electroencephalography (EEG) that measures electrical activity in the scalp

Diagnosis for inability to concentrate may take time and more evaluation.

How Is Being Unable to Concentrate Treated?

You may be able to make changes that improve your ability to concentrate if it is lifestyle related. Examples include:

  • eating a balanced diet with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins
  • eating several small meals each day
  • getting more sleep
  • reducing caffeine intake
  • taking steps to reduce stress, such as meditating, writing in a journal, or reading a book

Other treatments will depend upon your specific diagnosis. For example, people diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may need several different treatment approaches. This includes behavioral therapy to limit distractions or medications to improve concentration. It can also include parent education.

Written by: Rachel Nall, RN, BSN
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: George Krucik, MD, MBA
Published: May 19, 2015
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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