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What causes stupor? 15 possible conditions

What Does Stupor Mean?

Stupor can be a serious mental state where people don’t respond to normal conversation. Instead, they respond only to physical stimulation, such as to pain or rubbing on their chest, which is known as a sternal rub.

Another word for stupor is “obtunded.” Stupor can be considered a very serious symptom because it’s associated with disorders like drug overdose, stroke, lack of oxygen, meningitis, or brain swelling. It’s important to seek immediate medical attention when someone shows signs of stupor.

What Are the Symptoms of Stupor?

Someone experiencing stupor can be aroused or woken up with vigorous stimulation. They may be considered unconscious, but may respond somewhat to stimuli. This is different from someone in a coma because people in a coma can’t be woken up or aroused at all.

Stupor can cause the following physical symptoms in addition to mental symptoms:

  • abnormal breathing, such as breathing too slow or fast
  • muscles contracted in abnormal ways
  • pupils that are wider or smaller than normal
  • pupils that don’t react or change with exposure to light

There can be other, disease-specific symptoms associated with stupor as well.

What Are the Causes of Stupor?

There are many causes of stupor, most of which are severe diseases. Examples of possible causes of stupor include:

  • alcohol intoxication
  • brain aneurysm
  • brain tumor
  • carbon monoxide poisoning
  • cardiac arrest
  • delirium
  • dementia
  • drug overdose
  • encephalitis (brain infection)
  • head injury
  • hyperglycemia
  • hypernatremia
  • hyperthermia
  • hyperthyroidism
  • hypoglycemia
  • hyponatremia
  • hypothermia
  • hypothyroidism
  • hypoxia or lack of oxygen
  • kidney failure
  • liver failure
  • meningitis
  • respiratory arrest
  • seizure
  • sepsis, a serious bloodstream infection
  • stroke

When Do I Seek Medical Help for Stupor?

Stupor is always considered a medical emergency. Call 911 immediately if a person around you is experiencing stupor. It’s vital to get fast care in order to diagnosis the cause of stupor.

How Is Stupor Diagnosed?

Someone with stupor is unable to provide a medical history. If a loved one or eyewitness is available, a doctor may ask about their symptoms or any relevant medical history, if available.

The next step is to do a physical examination of the person. This includes taking vital signs, such as:

  • heart rate
  • respirations
  • blood pressure
  • temperature
  • oxygen saturation

Each of these can provide important information if the problem is related to the lungs or heart.

The doctor will evaluate how the person is breathing and any visible injuries that could be causing stupor. This includes head injuries as well as signs of bleeding on the body. The person’s posture or body positioning could also indicate stroke.

A neurological or brain examination is next. This can include testing the person’s reflexes, include pupil reflexes and light movements. The doctor may provide stimuli, including noise, pressure on the fingernails, or a sternal rub, to test their response.

The doctor might also do blood testing. This can help determine:

  • blood sugar levels
  • blood counts
  • blood clotting
  • electrolyte levels

The doctor may order an arterial blood gas (ABG) test. This test determines the pH of a person’s blood, which can indicate if too much acid or base is present and causing symptoms.

Imaging tests, especially those to view the brain, are also often conducted. An example is a computed tomography (CT) scan that doctors can use to pinpoint bleeding signs.

How Is Stupor Treated?

How someone is treated for stupor depends on the underlying cause or causes. Because the causes can range from infection to heart-related to lung-related to all of the above, stupor requires careful and fast treatment to keep the condition from worsening. 

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Head Injury

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A head injury could be an injury to the brain, skull, or scalp. It can vary in severity depending on the cause. In some cases face swelling can be a sign of a head injury.

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Epilepsy Overview

Epilepsy is a neurological condition caused by malfunctioning brain cells that result in seizures. There is no cure for this disorder but episodes can become less frequent.

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Hypovolemic Shock

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Hypovolemic shock (hemorrhagic shock) is a life-threatening condition that results when you lose more than 20 percent of your body's blood or fluid supply, preventing the heart from pumping sufficient blood to your body.

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Schizophrenia Overview

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Diabetic Ketoacidosis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a serious complication that stems from diabetes. If you don't have enough insulin to help your body process sugars (glucose), your body will start burning fat to fuel itself. As a result...

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Tuberculosis (TB) is a highly infectious disease that primarily affects the lungs. A severe and long-lasting cough, fever, and night sweats could indicate an active TB infection.

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Acetaminophen Overdose

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Acetaminophen is a pain reliever found in over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol and in prescription medications. Overuse of this ingredient can lead to liver damage, and an overdose can be fatal.

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Aftershave Poisoning

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Most aftershaves contain the poisonous ingredients. If swallowed, it can produce harmful effects. Symptoms include muscle cramping, nausea, abdominal pain, headache, and dizziness.

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Isopropyl Alcohol Poisoning

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Isopropyl alcohol (IPA) poisoning occurs when the liver is no longer able to manage the amount of IPA consumed accidentally or otherwise. Dizziness, abdominal pain, and nausea can occur.

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Acetone Poisoning

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Acetone poisoning occurs when there's more acetone in your body than the liver can break down. Acetone is a clear liquid that smells like nail polish remover.

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Reye's Syndrome

Reye's syndrome is a rare condition that results in sudden swelling and inflammation of the liver and brain and is often accompanied by a red scaly rash. It is not contagious.

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West Nile Virus Infection (West Nile Fever)

Spread by mosquitos, West Nile virus symptoms can vary in severity. Diarrhea and abdominal pain usually appears within two weeks of infection.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.