Lethargy: Definition, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

This word comes from the word lethargy, which means “forgetfulness.”

The state of lethargy or prolonged inactivity is the inertia of the body or mind. Lethargy is defined as a state of slowness, inactivity and apathy.

Other words that are also associated with lethargy are indifference, fatigue, lack of energy, continuous drowsiness, among others.

All of us have had that feeling from time to time, and having a loss of energy occurs naturally after one has been physically busy.

Lethargy can also occur after long periods of time, days or weeks, when the body is wasting itself physically or intellectually.

A common time to feel lethargic is after final exams.

Students can spend days and maybe weeks working hard to finish their teachers’ assignments, and at the end of the semester, when they can take a break, they are mentally and physically exhausted. This would also be considered lethargy.

Lethargy is a state of tiredness, apathy, lack of energy or fatigue. Lethargy is mainly accompanied by depression and a decrease in motivation. People with these symptoms are described as lethargic.

All of us have experienced lethargy several times in our lives after going through emotional and physical stress.

Lethargy can also be related to an underlying physical or mental condition.

Lethargy can also be caused by the use of medications or by underlying systemic diseases such as anemia, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, among others.

Lethargy that occurs due to emotional or physical stress resolves as soon as lifestyle changes, while diseases that cause lethargy must be treated to resolve lethargy.

Causes of lethargy

Lethargy is typically a symptom of some other illness, and it has varying levels of medical seriousness.

Overworking for long periods of time is a common cause of lethargy, but it is far from the only cause.

Other causes of lethargy could be divided into different types.

These types would include due to a physical and psychosocial cause, due to the heart and the vascular network, and it is also related to diseases.

Many types of acute illnesses can make an individual feel lethargic.

This includes anything from the flu or stomach virus to other more serious illnesses.

Other physical or medical conditions can also cause lethargy, such as:

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Dehydration
  • Fever.
  • Hydrocephalus, brain swelling, or traumatic brain injury.
  • renal failure .
  • Acute liver failure
  • Lyme disease.
  • Meningitis.
  • Endocrine abnormalities such as hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
  • Pituitary diseases, such as cancer of the pituitary gland.
  • Poor nutrition leading to anemia or eating disorders.
  • Sleep apnea
  • Cancer.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • Cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and cardiomyopathy.
  • Neurological diseases such as fibromyalgia, meningitis, and Parkinson’s disease.

Lethargy can also be the result of mental health conditions.

Some medical conditions such as anxiety, major depression, postpartum depression, and postmenopausal syndrome are associated with lethargy.

Lethargy can also be a side effect of taking certain medications.

For example, taking medications such as narcotics, the use of medications such as antihistamines and cough syrups, can also cause lethargy.

Lifestyle factors are the most common causes.

In our busy world, stress and overwork are a common source of lethargy.

After working in a high pressure, high demand position, it is easy for stress to use up the physical and mental reserves that a person would have, making them look down and tired.

Other times, lethargy can be caused by lack of exercise or excessive physical activity, excessive alcohol use, and drug abuse.

In these cases, the less that is done, the more lethargic the patient may feel, and this can become a vicious cycle that is difficult to overcome.

This could lead to disorders, such as depression or anxiety, that also have related lethargy.

At this point, medical assistance should be sought.

Some research points to the fact that lethargy is a feeling that comes from the reticular activation system located in the lower part of the brain.

The reticular activation system located is the area of ​​the brain that regulates the states of arousal, including the processes of sleeping and waking up, hence their relationship.

Symptoms of lethargy

Lethargy can cause some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Changes in mood
  • Decreased alertness or decreased ability to think.
  • Fatigue.
  • Low energy.
  • Slowness.

Lethargic people may act as if they are stunned. They can move slower than normal.

Symptoms of lethargy may require emergency medical attention, especially if they appear suddenly.

If lethargy is experienced along with the following symptoms, medical attention should be sought as urgently as possible:

  • A chest pain that does not go away with treatment.
  • Lack of response or minimal responsiveness.
  • The inability to move the limbs on one side of the body.
  • A degree of disorientation, such as not knowing your name, the current date, or your location.
  • Have a fast heartbeat.
  • Facial paralysis on one or both sides of the face.
  • Present rectal bleeding.
  • A severe headache.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Present vomiting of blood.
  • Difficulty to sleep.
  • Difficulty tolerating hot or cold temperatures.
  • Eye irritation.
  • Fatigue that lasts for more than two weeks.
  • Frequent sad or empty feelings.
  • Irritability.
  • Swollen neck glands.
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss.
  • Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself.
  • Concerns about harming the people around you.
  • Abdominal pain and pelvic pain.
  • Feeling faint
  • Present blurred vision.
  • Exhibiting the characteristics of shock, such as low blood pressure, tachycardia (an increased heart rate), clammy skin, and decreased urinary output.
  • Present loss of consciousness or an altered level of consciousness.
  • Any marked change in behavior that is accompanied by lethargy is often cause for concern.

Immediate medical attention should be sought if suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself are experienced in conjunction with lethargy.

Lethargy can cause a decrease in cognitive functions, presenting deficiencies such as the degree of concentration and memory.

And it becomes very difficult to retrieve the learning information.

Thinking becomes much slower and any mental task, no matter how simple it may seem, becomes very difficult and even impossible to perform.

This type of deficiency induces a decrease in the ability to solve problems and in the individual’s decision-making.

Lethargy in infants or young children

Babies or young children can also experience lethargy.

Symptoms in babies that may need immediate medical attention include:

  • The baby’s difficulty waking up.
  • Present fevers greater than 38.9 ° C.
  • Present symptoms of dehydration, which are manifested in crying without tears, a dry mouth or few wet diapers.
  • Have vomiting, especially for more than 12 hours.

Diagnosis of lethargy

Lethargy is a non-specific symptom that can occur due to many underlying diseases of the body.

Diagnosis and clinical treatment are not always required.

But it is always recommended to consult a doctor if the lethargy is prolonged and does not disappear in a day.

The doctor will usually take a complete medical history and perform a physical exam to diagnose lethargy.

The medical examination may include listening to the heartbeat and checking for any condition in the lungs, checking for sounds in the intestines and the presence of pain in any part of the body, and finally conducting a mental awareness assessment.

Diagnostic tests generally depend on what the doctor suspects may be an underlying cause.

For example, if your doctor suspects a thyroid disorder, they may order blood tests to determine whether your thyroid hormones are high or low.

Your doctor may order imaging studies if a neurological cause of lethargy is suspected, such as a head injury, stroke, or meningitis.

Imaging studies may include a CT scan or MRI to determine if there are abnormalities in the brain.

Sometimes it needs to be processed with investigations such as blood tests, chest x-ray, ultrasound of the entire abdomen, urinalysis, among others.

Treatment of lethargy

Lethargy is commonly caused by physical and emotional stress .

These cases do not require medical treatment and are resolved with adequate sleep, abundant water intake, meditation, healthy eating habits, reducing stress levels, light physical exercises, among others.

However, in some cases of lethargy, medical treatment is essential and sometimes saves lives. Treatment of lethargy is a treatment of the underlying cause of tiredness.

Treatment of lethargy caused by dehydration can be improved with intravenous fluids, antibiotics.

In patients with hypothyroidism, the consumption of levothyroxine is essential to avoid lethargy.

Patients with hypothyroidism can be treated with antithyroid drugs, radioactive iodine, or surgery.

The patient with characteristics of shock needs emergency care and needs, maintenance of the airways, respiration and circulation, which can be achieved by endotracheal intubation, administration of intravenous fluid, blood transfusion (shock caused by hemorrhage).

People with lethargy associated with suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of harming themselves or the people who live around them, can be treated with antidepressants, antipsychotics, anxiolytics, and behavioral counseling.

So, you should always be aware of the danger signs associated with lethargy.

This can help make the diagnosis and receive medical treatment before it is too late.

Prevention of Lethargy

  • Night work and insomnia are one of the main causes of lethargy. Adequate sleep, that is, sleeping for 6 to 7 hours a day helps prevent lethargy. The sleep cycle must be maintained on a regular basis.
  • Consuming plenty of water, maintaining a diet with healthy foods that contains a large amount of vegetables and fruits.
  • Not only does regular physical exercise help reduce body weight, it also helps relieve stress and makes you mentally and physically active.
  • Meditation, yoga are recommended to relieve stress and to keep the mind and body active.
  • The jobs that affect the body, if possible, should be changed. When it is not possible to change jobs, you can take breaks or go on vacation. Changing jobs or going on a break can help relieve stress and also make time to relax.
  • Consuming multivitamins can also help prevent lethargy.
  • Treatment of underlying pathological conditions and regular follow-up.