What is lethargy?

Lethargy is defined as a state of sluggishness, inactivity, and apathy. Other words are also associated with lethargy, such as listless, tiredness, lack of energy, continued sleepiness, and others. All people have had that feeling from time to time, and having a loss of energy naturally occurs after you’re physically engaged. Lethargy can also occur after long periods of time – days or weeks – when the body is physically or intellectually spent. Lethargy can be related to an underlying physical or mental condition.

How common is lethargy?

Lethargy is extremely common. It can occur in patients in any gender at any age. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Which signs and symptoms can lethargy usually be associated with?

Related signs and symptoms include:

  • Changes in mood
  • Decreased alertness or decreased ability to think
  • Fatigue
  • Low energy
  • Sluggishness
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shortness of breath (worsens with exertion)
  • Wheezing
  • Anxiety
  • Appetite changes
  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Changes in urination
  • Depressed mood
  • Fever
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Hair loss
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Skin changes
  • Sneezing
  • Unintentional weight gain or loss
  • Weakness


What causes lethargy?

Causes of lethargy can include:

  • Physical and psychosocial 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 the physical and mental reserves a person would have, making him or her listless and tired. Other times, lethargy can be caused by lack of exercise, alcohol use, or eating disorders. In these cases, the less you do, the more lethargic you can feel, and this can become a vicious cycle that is difficult to overcome. This could lead to disorders, such as depression or anxiety, which also have related lethargy. At this point, medical assistance should be sought.
  • Heart and circulatory diseases. Heart and circulatory diseases can create lethargy as a result of diseases such as cardiomyopathy or stroke. These patients can have lethargy due to their inability to move well and tire easily due to their compromised physical ability. The heart does not pump blood well, resulting in less oxygen being distributed to the body, and the body cannot keep moving and must rest. This can decrease the patient’s motivation and ability to exercise, leading to less exercise, greater lethargy and increased risk of greater disease.
  • Neurological diseases. Diseases of the neurological system can also cause lethargy, and examples of these include fibromyalgia and Parkinson’s disease. Diseases such as these have joint discomfort or stiffness, which may cause those affected to move less. Since they cannot move well without pain, this may increase their lethargy.

The conditions mentioned above are some common causes of lethargy. Consult with your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for lethargy?

There are many risk factors for lethargy, such as:

  • Inadequate sleep
  • Overexertion
  • Overworking
  • Stress
  • Lack of exercise
  • Boredom

Please consult with your doctor for further information.

When to see your doctor

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you or your loved one has any of the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Unresponsiveness or minimal responsiveness
  • Inability to move your limbs on one side of your body
  • Disorientation, such as not knowing your name, the date, or your location
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Facial paralysis on one or both sides of your face
  • 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 along with lethargy.

You may also want to make an appointment at your doctor’s office if you experience any of these symptoms alongside 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
  • Irritability
  • Swollen neck glands
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss

Babies or young children can also experience lethargy. Symptoms in babies that may need immediate medical attention include:

  • Difficult to rouse
  • Fever greater than 38.9°c
  • Dehydration symptoms, such as crying without tears, dry mouth, or few wet diapers
  • Sudden rash
  • Vomiting forcefully, especially for more than 12 hours

On noticing one of these symptoms or having any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor to get the best solutions for your situation.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage lethargy?

These following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with lethargy:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Reducing stress levels

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor for the best solutions.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: February 20, 2019 | Last Modified: February 20, 2019

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