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More on Drowsiness

April 2, 2013

Drowsy DriverDrowsiness is a general term for a condition in which a person feels a sensation of sleepiness, tiredness, fatigue, weariness, lethargy, or exhaustion. Drowsiness can be normal, such as at the end of the day before bedtime, or drowsiness can be a symptom of a wide variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions.

Drowsiness can result from sleep deprivation, medication side effects, the use of alcohol or drugs and mental illnesses. Drowsiness can also be the result of diseases, disorders and conditions that can make it difficult to get enough normal sleep. These can include sleep disorders, infection, inflammation, trauma, pain, malignancy, chronic diseases and autoimmune diseases.

Drowsiness can occur in any age group or population. Depending on the cause, the sensation of drowsiness can be short-term and disappear quickly, such as when it occurs due to excessive exercise or a single night of sleeplessness. Drowsiness can also can be chronic and ongoing over a longer period of time, such as when it is due to disturbed sleep patterns caused by depression or heart failure. For more details about causes, see causes of drowsiness.

Drowsiness, especially chronic drowsiness, can seriously impact the ability to function effectively in everyday life. Drowsiness can lead to decreased alertness, trouble with work, school and relationships, and an increased risk of causing a motor vehicle collision.

There are many symptoms that can accompany drowsiness, depending on the disease, disorder or condition that is at the root of it. Some symptoms include headache, confusion, low blood sugar, fever, weight loss, weight gain, weakness and dizziness.

Diagnosing drowsiness and its root cause begins with taking a thorough personal and family medical history, including accompanying symptoms, and completing a physical examination, including a neurological examination. Diagnostic testing may also include a mental health exam and sleep studies.

A variety of other tests may be performed to help to diagnose the underlying disease, condition or disorder causing drowsiness and to evaluate overall heath. Depending on the suspected cause, tests can include blood tests. A complete blood count (CBC) can help to determine if anemia or an infectious process, such as bacterial infection is present. A chemistry panel is also often done. A blood glucose test may be done to check for diabetes and hypoglycemia. TSH and other thyroid tests can help to determine if hypothyroidism is the cause of drowsiness.

Other tests may also be performed depending on the suspected cause. These include imaging tests, such as X-ray, CT scan, nuclear scans and MRI.

A diagnosis of drowsiness and its cause can easily be delayed or missed because drowsiness may be mild or not last for long periods of time.

Treatment of drowsiness involves diagnosing and treating the underlying disease, disorder or condition that is causing it. Some conditions can be easily and successfully treated and cured, while others may require more intensive treatment and may not have an optimal prognosis.

Drowsiness: Misdiagnosis

Diagnosing drowsiness and its cause may be delayed or missed because the drowsiness may not be severe or consistent enough for a person to seek medical care. In addition, some people may believe that drowsiness is a normal part of aging. Drowsiness is a symptom of many different conditions, and some of them are potentially serious.

From → Blood, Health, Sleep

  1. pioneerannie permalink

    I saw that picture of the guy falling asleep while driving and said, “That’s ME!” I had no idea Hypoglycemia could be a cause for this. I’m hypoglycemic and just this year I have been discovering how serious it actually is. Thanks for this post, I have had issues with drowsiness since I was in grade 12 and would fall asleep in class despite my efforts to stay awake.

    • Oh!! Your comment stopped me cold! I am glad nothing happened so far. I cannot give medical advice, because hypoglycemia usually has an underlying cause (oh, and I am not a doctor). In my case, while figuring out how to deal with my anemia and allergies, it helped to figure out the maximum time I could drive (it turned out to be only 45 minutes). And to enforce a break and a healthy snack before getting back behind the wheel. No matter if I felt fine. Be safe.

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