Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors
Drowsiness is a state of decreased awareness or alertnessassociated with a desire or tendency to fall asleep.
What is going on in the body?
Almost everyone has felt drowsybefore, usually due to normal tiredness from a long day or lack of sleep. There are other causes of this condition as well. Most of the causes are not serious, but some are life threatening.
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
There are many possible causes of this condition, including:
Other causes are also possible. Sometimes no cause can be found.
Symptoms & Signs
What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
When someone complains of abnormal drowsiness, the healthcare provider will ask questions, such as:
Diagnosis & Tests
How is the condition diagnosed?
After a physical examination, the healthcare provider may order further tests. A chest x-ray may be done if lung disease is thought to be the cause. A sleep study, called polysomnography, may be done if sleep apnea is suspected. A blood test called a complete blood count (CBC) may be ordered if anemia or an infection is suspected. Other tests may also be needed in some cases.
Prevention & Expectations
What can be done to prevent the condition?
Avoiding stress and overexertion, getting enough sleep, and eating a healthy diet can prevent many cases of drowsiness. Avoidance of alcohol and medications that cause drowsiness can avoid cases due to these causes. Maintaining a normal weight and avoiding obesity can sometimes prevent sleep apnea. Many causes cannot be prevented.
What are the long-term effects of the condition?
Drowsiness, when persistent, can limit a person’s ability to work, go to school, and drive. Severely affected people may need to rest for most of the day. Other long-term effects depend on the cause. For instance, end-stage cancer often results in death. Cases due to a stroke may cause permanent drowsiness and other limitations from brain damage.
What are the risks to others?
Drowsiness is not contagious and poses no risk to others. However, if the cause is an infection, such as meningitis, the infection may be contagious.
Treatment & Monitoring
What are the treatments for the condition?
Specific treatment is directed at the cause. For instance, a person may need to get antibiotics for an infection or thyroid hormone pills for a low thyroid level. In other people, control of diabetes or other systemic disorders may be needed. A person with depression often needs medications to treat the condition. Those with cancer may needsurgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
What are the side effects of the treatments?
All medications and surgeries have possible side effects. For instance, antibiotics may cause allergic reactions and stomach upset. Surgery carries a risk of bleeding, infection, and allergic reactions to anesthesia.
What happens after treatment for the condition?
If the drowsiness goes away, a person may or may not need further treatment. For instance, those with kidney failure need further treatment even if their drowsiness goes away. Those who were “overdoing it” or not getting enough sleep may need no further treatment once they get some rest. Those with serious diseases, such as end-stage cancer, may die if treatment is unsuccessful.
How is the condition monitored?
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider. The cause of drowsiness may or may not need monitoring. For instance, those with anemia need repeat CBC blood tests to make sure the blood count returns to normal.
Article type: xmedgeneral