I’ve had a bad case of lethargy lately due to fibromyalgia. In extremes, it literally leaves you helpless. You have to gather energy to even get up (more on that on Chep’s Voice). Some of us have experienced it in extremes and some in bits and pieces. Have you experienced lethargy?
Lethargy is also described as an extreme lack of energy, fatigue, or tiredness. Lethargy can occur due to lack of sleep or exercise, poor diet, boredom, stress, medical condition and overworking. In most cases lethargy is a normal response to any of these conditions and can be resolved with proper sleep, regular exercise, a balanced diet, and a reduction in stress factors. However, there are some cases where lethargy may be symptomatic of another more serious physical or psychological condition. Illnesses such as cancer, asthma, anemia, fibromyalgia, sleeping disorders, thyroid problems, substance abuse, and certain medications can all cause lethargy. In such situations, lethargy may also be accompanied by feelings of depression, apathy and lack of motivation. If lethargy is chronic and does not reduce or disappear with the normal self-care methods, it is indicative that there is a deeper cause to the condition that may even require medical attention.
A diagnosis of lethargy is the first step towards identifying the problem and finding the correct treatment. Your doctor may recommend a series of tests such as blood, urine, and imaging tests to rule out any other medical condition. In itself, lethargy is not a serious illness but if it has occurred suddenly or is accompanied by other severe symptoms, contact your doctor or health care provider immediately. Symptoms such as chest pain, high fever, blurred vision, heart palpitations, dizziness, confusion, and severe pain are all indicative of a medical emergency if accompanied by a significant energy loss or feelings of fatigue. If your lethargy is persistent and lasts for several weeks or months, you need medical treatment as well.
Symptoms of Lethargy
The underlying condition or disease will determine the lethargy symptoms. Depending on the cause of lethargy, the symptoms will vary. Since lethargy is a non-specific symptom in itself, it is useful to be aware of other symptoms so that diagnosis is more accurate. Lethargy may accompany symptoms of the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems such as chest pain, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, cough, wheezing, and abnormal heart rate. Lethargy leads to a decrease in overall muscular strength. This in turn affects your ability to work and play. If not treated in time, lethargy could result in a complete lack of response to any physical or emotional stimuli. Lethargy may also be a symptom of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Lethargy occurs mainly in adults and is relatively rare in children. If a child is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it is assumed that he or she is suffering from depression or some other medical condition.
Other lethargy symptoms include:
- Change in appetite
- Change in bowel movements and urine output
- Anxiety attacks
- Feeling of depression
- Fever, cough, and cold
- Dehydration and constant feeling of thirst
- Muscle and joint pain
- Rash or irritation of the skin
- Fatigue and weakness
- Sudden weight-gain or weight loss
- Difficulty in performing normal everyday tasks
- Difficulty in concentrating and mental fatigue
- Insomnia or difficulty in falling asleep
Causes of Lethargy
You can discover the cause of lethargy by studying its patterns and the symptoms that accompany it. A feeling of lethargy that progressively increases over the day and is accompanied by weight gain, dry skin and constipation could indicate that it is due to the improper working of the thyroid gland. Lethargy that starts in the morning and persists throughout the day may be due to lack of sleep, extreme stress or depression. Lethargy that does not reduce with rest, a proper diet and exercise can mean that it is a symptom of the more serious chronic fatigue syndrome. Lethargy can be caused by problems with the cardiovascular and respiratory system such as asthma, cardiomyopathy, COPD, heart failure, and pneumonia. Psychological and neurological conditions such as substance abuse, anxiety attacks, depression, eating disorders, dementia, grief, lack of exercise and too much work can all lead to lethargy as well. Disease such as cancer, anemia, diabetes, kidney disorders, chronic pain, liver disease, thyroid problems, rheumatoid arthritis, and sleep disorders can result in lethargy as a side effect. Life threatening causes of lethargy include arrhythmia, drug overdose, hemorrhage, severe depression, serious infection, trauma, and acute heart failure. In such cases, immediate evaluation and treatment is required to prevent a fatality.
Your doctor or health care provider will ask you a number of questions in order to get to the root of your lethargy. These could include questions like:
- How well do you sleep?
- At what point in the day do you first notice your lethargy?
- How often do you feel lethargic?
- Are you stressed or anxious at work or at home?
- What are your moods like?
- What is your daily routine like?
- What do you eat?
- Do you exercise?
- Are you on any medications?
- Do you drink or use drugs?
- Are there any other symptoms you are experiencing?
By answering all these questions truthfully, you will provide your doctor with the information required to determine the cause of your lethargy.
Lethargy if left unchecked and untreated can result in serious health complications and permanent damage to your health. Once the cause has been diagnosed, it is important that you follow your doctors recommendations regarding treatment of lethargy symptoms.
Remedies for Lethargy
Since the main symptoms of lethargy include a feeling of fatigue and weakness, there is generally a drop in activity levels and exercise. Most cures for lethargy are directed towards reducing tiredness, balancing weight gain or loss and improving muscular functioning. Natural remedies for lethargy are always directed at specific symptoms that accompany the condition.
Do keep in mind most of these home remedies for lethargy are simply meant to help relieve the symptoms and will not cure the condition. Moreover, there is little to no research on the effects of most of these natural remedies and the effects could vary greatly among different individuals.
Diet for Lethargy
Experts believe that low immunity and a poor diet are the main reasons for lethargy. The foods you eat can affect your body and make a huge difference in the way you feel on a daily basis. A diet for lethargy should not include foods high in fat, sugar, or additives and chemicals. Over-processed foods should be replaced by whole foods and super foods instead. Avoid white sugar, fatty foods, oily and spicy foods that put too much stress on the digestive system. Imbalances of bacteria levels in the digestive system also affect the way food is processed in the body. There is no definite dietary cure for lethargy however, and the effectiveness of any diet plan may also depend on the underlying cause. To combat lethargy, you should eat a healthy balanced diet consisting of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, sprouts, protein and complex carbohydrates. Drink at least eight to ten glasses of water a day to prevent dehydration and tiredness.
There are also specific vitamins for lethargy that could help. Anxiety and stress can cause lethargy. Chronic anxiety can lead to a depletion of adrenal in the body and can be counteracted by increasing your vitamin B and magnesium intake. Multivitamins high in chromium and magnesium help balance out blood sugar levels and prevent fatigue and mood swings. Iron is one of the most important nutrients especially for women. Low iron levels can result in exhaustion and chronic lethargy. Eating foods high in iron such as green leafy vegetables, red meat, and legumes can help significantly in such a scenario to fight off anemia and reduce the symptoms of lethargy. Too much iron however can cause pain, constipation, and flatulence so follow your doctors advice if you wish to try any supplements.
Suggestion for Lethargy
Feelings of lethargy are often exacerbated by drug and alcohol use. Alcohol depletes the body of water and hampers the proper functioning of various systems as a result. The electrolyte balance is upset when too much alcohol is consumed and the natural processes of the body get disrupted leading to exhaustion and lethargy.
One of the best ways to combat lethargy is through exercise. Yoga, cardio exercise such as running or swimming can reduce stress, lower anxiety, and lead to regular sleep patterns. In addition, an exercise regime also helps reduce weight and boosts immunity thereby preventing other illnesses and conditions that may lead to lethargy as well.