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Difficulty Concentrating Symptom Checker

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Difficulty Concentrating Symptoms

The tasks are piling up at work or school, and you just can't seem to keep up. No matter how hard you try, it seems impossible to focus on the task at hand, with distractions drawing your attention away every few minutes.

Difficulty concentrating can be a debilitating problem in today's world as tasks grow more detailed and complex. Even the most dedicated taskmasters can fall victim to this problem from time to time. While some may try to ignore concentration issues or hope they will go away on their own, falling behind can make the problem worse by increasing stress levels further. So, it's best to address the problem as early as possible.

Though many people report difficulty concentrating symptoms, the issue can take different forms. Sometimes, the symptoms indicate medical issues, while other times, a mental health professional is best equipped to address the problem.

Some concerns associated with difficulty concentrating symptoms include:

  • Feeling on-edge
  • Distractibility
  • Inability to sit still
  • Racing thoughts
  • Irritability
  • Frustration
  • Forgetfulness

Difficulty Concentrating Causes

The causes for difficulty concentrating can be as varied as the symptoms, and there may be multiple factors contributing to the problem for any one person. Some of the most common causes fall into the following categories: psychological, medical, and environmental.

Psychological difficulty concentrating causes:

  • Attention disorders: Though usually diagnosed in children, these can also strike adults and may seriously disrupt productivity at home, school, or the office. [1]
  • Depression: Feeling down or blue can make it tough to manage your thoughts.
  • Bereavement: After the death of a loved one, it can take months to recover.
  • Anxiety: Those with serious worries often have trouble focusing on just one task as there are many other issues competing for their attention.
  • Mood disorders: Uncontrolled conditions such as bipolar disorder may involve racing thoughts that others can find hard to follow [2].

Medical difficulty concentrating causes:

  • Hormone problems: Dysfunction of the adrenal gland can result in changes in your energy level and ability to concentrate.
  • Thyroid issues: When your thyroid is working too little or too much, concentration can be impacted.
  • Low red blood cell count: Red blood cells carry oxygen to the brain, and a shortage can deprive the brain from essential energy necessary to do its work.

Environmental difficulty concentrating causes:

  • Stress: This can be a vicious cycle with stress at home or work zapping your concentration, making it difficult to complete tasks, which increases stress further.
  • Overstimulating environment: When a task isn't incredibly interesting, it may be almost impossible to tune out the nearby TV, put down the cell phone, or stop chatting with your officemate.
  • Lack of sleep: A good night's rest is the body's way of recovering from a day of hard work, and without time off, drowsiness will almost certainly take over.
  • Burnout: If you're on the brink of emotional exhaustion, focusing on any task can be a losing battle until you address the underlying problem directly.

Sometimes people wonder if their difficulty concentrating is related to memory problems or other aging issues. It's important to distinguish normal aging from more severe conditions, such as dementia.

  • Normal aging: As we get older, it is normal to occasionally forget certain words or misplace the keys for a few minutes and then remember. This problem can be distracting, but does not impact everyday tasks and usually will not require treatment [3,4].
  • Cognitive impairment: People with more severe memory problems, such as frequently forgetting events or even family members' names, often have issues staying focused on a task or conversation. Sometimes friends or family notice problems before the person with concentration difficulties.

8 Possible Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced difficulty concentrating. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

  1. 1.Sleep Deprived

    Sleep is very important to health and adults should get a minimum of 7 hours each night. Sleep deprivation causes daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and headaches.

    Resolves with adequate sleep.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, daytime sleepiness, sleep duration less than 7 hours, difficulty concentrating
    Symptoms that always occur with sleep deprived:
    sleep duration less than 7 hours, daytime sleepiness
    Symptoms that never occur with sleep deprived:
    nausea or vomiting, being severely ill, fever, unintentional weight loss
    Wait and watch
  2. 2.Insomnia Disorder

    Insomnia is a very common sleep disorder that prevents one from falling asleep, staying asleep, or a combination of both.

    Condition is treatable with medication and behavior changes.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, mild headache, insomnia
    Symptoms that always occur with insomnia disorder:
    trouble sleeping
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Depression

    Depression is a mental disorder in which a person feels constantly sad, hopeless, discouraged, and loses interest in activities and life on more days than not. These symptoms interfere with daily life, work, and friendships.

    Depression's course is highly variable, and it may last weeks, months, or years.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, headache, anxiety, irritability
    Symptoms that always occur with depression:
    depressed mood
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Gad)

    Anxiety is a common emotion from time to time; however, persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worrying are signs of generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder is diagnosed when a person worries more days than not for at least six months and has symptoms like fatigue, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.

    With long-term care, symptoms can be controlled with talk therapy, medication, and self-care.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, trouble sleeping, general anxiety (stress), irritability, nausea
    Symptoms that always occur with generalized anxiety disorder (gad):
    general anxiety (stress)
    Primary care doctor

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  5. 5.Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

    Chronic fatigue syndrome is a disease that causes unexplained fatigue that does not improve with rest.

    Chronic fatigue syndrome is a life-long condition.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, difficulty concentrating, severe fatigue, trouble sleeping, impaired social or occupational functioning
    Symptoms that always occur with chronic fatigue syndrome:
    fatigue, impaired social or occupational functioning
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic fatigue syndrome:
    mild fatigue, fever
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Post - Concussion Syndrome

    Postconcussion syndrome is a condition that happens after a mild brain injury. Symptoms can include headache, dizziness, fatigue, difficulty with concentrating and sleep disturbances.

    Typically, your symptoms will dissolve over the course of a few weeks and most people are back to normal in 3 months. If symptoms persist longer, your doctor might suggest medicines or other treatments.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea, anxiety, mild or moderate headache, depressed mood
    Symptoms that never occur with post-concussion syndrome:
    severe headache
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Hypothyroidism

    Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped organ inside the neck, no longer produces adequate levels of hormones. Thyroid hormones are essential for many bodily functions including breathing, heart rate, and metabolism.

    Most cases of hypothyroidism require lifelong hormone replacement therapy.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, weight gain, muscle aches
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Acute Stress Disorder

    Acute stress disorder describes changes in one's mood or memory for less than a month following an emotional or traumatic event.

    Acute stress disorder generally lasts days to 1 month.

    Top Symptoms:
    trouble sleeping, anxiety, irritability, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating
    Symptoms that always occur with acute stress disorder:
    impaired social or occupational functioning
    Primary care doctor

Difficulty Concentrating Treatments, Relief and Prevention

Since many causes of concentration problems are related to lifestyle and environmental issues, try changing your routine as first-line treatment.

  • Reduce stimuli in your environment: A constantly buzzing cell phone is a recipe for disaster when working on a deadline. Silence your electronics, turn off the TV, and shut the door so that you can have some peace and quiet.
  • Get a good night's sleep: It's hard to overestimate the benefits of a solid eight or nine hours of sleep.
  • Give up caffeine: Though it can give an effective energy boost, caffeine can also make people feel restless and distractible. If you've been drinking coffee or energy drinks for a while, wean yourself off of them over a few weeks to avoid withdrawal symptoms like headaches.
  • Make a schedule: Creating a task list and setting mini-deadlines makes it easier to stay on task and keep track of your progress.

If these changes don't make a difference, it's time to visit your doctor, who may try some of the following difficulty concentrating treatments depending on your symptoms.

  • Therapy: Working with a professional is the best way to address underlying problems like depression or anxiety that make it difficult to keep focused on even simple tasks.
  • Cognitive testing: A neurologist can perform special tests to determine if you may be experiencing normal aging, or if there is concern for a more serious problem.
  • Stimulants: Medications like Adderall or Ritalin can dramatically improve concentration in those with properly diagnosed attention disorders.
  • Psychotropic medications: Sometimes other prescription medications are the best option if difficulty concentrating is due to an underlying psychiatric condition.
  • Blood tests: A doctor may decide to check the level of your hormones or blood count to determine if you require a medical treatment for concentration problems.

See your doctor right away if you have the following difficulty concentrating symptoms:

  • Sudden onset, severe headache
  • Difficulty seeing or speaking
  • Confusion
  • Sudden weakness in the face or body

FAQs About Difficulty Concentrating

Here are some frequently asked questions about difficulty concentrating.

Can anxiety cause difficulty concentrating?

Yes, anxiety can cause difficulty concentrating. Psychological disorders associated with anxiety include generalized or situational anxiety disorders and posttraumatic stress disorder. Difficulty concentrating may be because of intrusive thoughts, involving worry about a particular topic, or intrusive memories of a past traumatic event.

Does stress lead to difficulty concentrating?

Yes, stress can lead to difficulty concentrating. Stress activates the fight or flight system which primes the body to be aware of threats in the immediate environment. Stress can keep one from acquiring the focus necessary to concentrate on a single task. If you are having trouble concentrating, you may also be tired. Rest can increase the ability to concentrate for large periods. Breathing exercises and mindfulness have also shown an ability to increase an individual's concentration.

Can my difficulty concentrating be a sign of depression?

Yes, difficulty concentrating can be a sign of depression [5]. A diagnosis of depression requires other symptoms as well, including but not limited to agitation, inability to sleep or excessive sleepiness, lack of interest in one's normal joys or passions, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, decreased energy, decreased appetite or increased appetite, inability to sit still or slow movements, and suicidal thoughts.

Why do I have difficulty concentrating while pregnant?

Difficulty concentrating can be due to many processes of pregnancy. Decreased sleep is the most common cause, but if difficulty concentrating occurs with confusion and an elevated blood pressure, you may have a life threatening condition and should contact your physician immediately. There are reports of "pregnancy brain" refering to a fog, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty remembering things. Unfortunately, there have been no surveys of frequency or studies on this process. Currently, literature has no concrete evidence suggestive of a cause, but common theories include a shift in hormones, blood flow, lack of sleep, or general stress as contributors to pregnancy associated confusion.

Can low iron cause difficulty concentrating?

Low iron can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, and difficulty concentrating. Iron is used to create the chemical structure (heme) that exists within red blood cells and is used to carry oxygen. If you have low iron stores, you may not have enough blood (anemia) to carry optimal amounts of oxygen to your brain. This can lead to lightheadedness and difficulty concentrating.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Difficulty Concentrating

  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Are you feeling irritable (easily made upset)?
  • Q.Do you have trouble sleeping?
  • Q.Are your symptoms causing difficulty at work, socializing, or spending time with friends & family?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our difficulty concentrating symptom checker to find out more.

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Difficulty Concentrating Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced difficulty concentrating have also experienced:

    • 9% Foggy Feeling in the Head
    • 8% Fatigue
    • 5% Headache
  • People who have experienced difficulty concentrating were most often matched with:

    • 57% Depression
    • 42% Insomnia Disorder
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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  1. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. NIMH Link.
  2. Hilty DM, Leamon MH, Hales RE, et al. A Review of Bipolar Disorder in Adults. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2006;3(9):43-55. NCBI Link.
  3. Jasmin L. Memory Loss. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated December 3, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  4. Memory Changes in Older Adults. American Psychological Association. Published June 11, 2006. APA Link.
  5. Depression. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. ADAA Link.