What causes unable to concentrate? 24 possible conditions

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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.

Article Sources:

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

1

ADHD Basics

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a mental disorder that causes above-normal levels of hyperactive and disruptive behaviors. The cause is unknown but risk factors include genetic predisposition an...

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2

AIDS

There are many symptoms of the autoimmune disease HIV/AIDS, including persistent skin rashes, night sweats, and mouth sores.

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3

Concussion

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

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury. Usually it occurs after an impact to your head or after a whiplash-type injury. A concussion can cause many severe symptoms that affect brain function.

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4

Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body. It is serious and sometimes fatal. Lead can be found in paint, art supplies, and other items. Poisoning may cause severe abdominal pain, seizures, and more.

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5

Acute Stress Disorder

In the weeks after a traumatic event, you may develop an anxiety disorder called acute stress disorder (ASD). ASD typically occurs within one month of a traumatic event. It lasts at least two days and up to one month...

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6

Post Concussion Syndrome

Post-concussion syndrome, or post-concussive syndrome (PCS), refers to the lingering symptoms following a concussion or a mild traumatic brain injury. Symptoms vary but include headache, dizziness, and depression.

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7

Dementia Overview

Dementia may affect memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior. Mental impairment must affect at least two brain functions to be considered dementia.

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8

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that occurs after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. PTSD can cause disruptive symptoms of panic, increased arousal, and mental/emotional problems.

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9

Nicotine Dependence

Nicotine addiction occurs when a person becomes addicted to nicotine, which is a chemical found in tobacco. The addiction is physical, mental, and behavioral.

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10

Sleeplessness

Sleeplessness, or insomnia, is a serious sleep disorder. It can mean the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night, or the tendency to wake too early before having gotten enough sleep.

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11

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

People who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, worry uncontrollably about common occurrences and situations. The condition may also be called chronic anxiety neurosis.GAD is different than normal feeling...

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12

Delirium

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

Delirium is an abrupt change in the brain that causes mental confusion and emotional disruption. It makes it difficult to think, remember, sleep, pay attention, and more. You might experience the condition durin...

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13

PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome)

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition that affects a woman

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14

CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating disorder characterized by intense fatigue that cannot be cured with sleep. Mental and physical activities may cause symptoms to worsen. When fatigue cannot be linked to ...

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15

Multiple Sclerosis Overview

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. MS can cause varying symptoms that appear with a wide range of severity, from mild discomfort to complete disability.

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16

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder mental illness marked by extreme from mania to depression. Bipolar disorder is also called bipolar disease or manic depression.

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17

Migraine with Aura

Migraine is a disorder characterized by repeated attacks of severe headache. Symptoms include throbbing or pulsating pain, usually on only one side of the head, and can last between four hours and three days.

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18

Alcoholic Liver Disease

Damage to the liver from excessive drinking can lead to ALD. Years of alcohol abuse cause the liver to become inflamed and swollen. This damage can also cause scarring known as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the final stage o...

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19

Anxiety

What is anxiety? Anxiety often manifests itself as an apprehension about daily life. Learn the basics with this overview of the types of anxiety disorders.

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20

Dysthymia

Dysthymia is chronic depression with recurring symptoms of sadness and hopelessness lasting for several years. It is not characterized by acute depressive episodes but by an ongoing depressed feeling. Dysthymia is mos...

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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.
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