Concentration is essentially the ability to focus your attention on a specific task. You rely on concentration to get through work or school everyday and when you’re unable to concentrate it becomes more difficult to think clearly, focus on a task or maintain your attention.
Not being able to focus can become a major issue in life. It can stop you from moving forward in your career, cause you to forget things in ways that negatively affect your relationships and lead you to make mistakes in important areas like your finances.
Difficulty concentrating clearly has a negative effect on your performance, but you may also find that you can’t think as well, which can also affect your decision making. A number of medical conditions may contribute to or cause an inability to concentrate. It is not always a medical emergency, but it may warrant medical attention.
Difficulty concentrating is a normal and periodic occurrence for most people. Tiredness and emotional stress can cause concentration problems in most people. Hormonal changes, such as those experienced in pregnancy or menopause can also affect how well we think and concentrate.
However, when concentration problems are present to an excessive degree, it is also characteristic of certain physical and psychological conditions. The most prevalent condition associated with a difficulty concentrating is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which has been increasingly diagnosed in both children and adults in recent years.
In addition to ADHD, rare conditions that affect the brain and some emotional problems as well as endocrinological disturbances can also influence an individual’s cognitive functions and thus impair concentration.
Causes And Risk Factors
Being unable to concentrate can be the result of a chronic condition, including;
- Attention deficit disorder.
- Alcoholism or alcohol abuse.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Cushing disease.
- Major depressive disorder.
- Mental disorders (e.g. Schizophrenia).
- Restless leg syndrome.
Being unable to concentrate can also be a side effect of some medications. Make sure to read the insert carefully and contact your doctor or pharmacist to determine if your medication may be affecting your concentration.
You should seek immediate medical attention if being unable to concentrate affects your abilities to go through your daily life or enjoy your life. In addition you should also get medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms in addition to being unable to concentrate:
- Severe chest pain.
- Severe headache.
- Sudden unexplained memory loss.
- Unawareness of where you are.
- Numbness or tingling on one side of your body.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Affected memory that is worse than usual.
- Decreased performance at work/school.
- Difficulty Sleeping.
- Unusual feelings of tiredness
Diagnosing your condition could involve a variety of tests because there could be many causes behind your inability to concentrate. Your doctor may start by gathering your medical history as well as discussing your symptoms.
They may ask questions such as “when did you first notice your condition?” and “when is your ability to concentrate better/worse”. Your doctor may also review any medications, supplements or herbs that you may be taking to determine if they could be affecting your concentration.
Your doctor, at this point, may have enough information to make a diagnosis, but may also recommend further testing through one or more of the following;
- Blood testing to determine hormone levels.
- CT (Computer tomography) scans to view brain abnormalities.
- EEG (electroencephalography) that measures electrical activity in the scalp.
It is important to be patient as a diagnosis may take considerable time.
Depending on the cause of your condition, your treatment may vary. You may be able to make changes that improve your ability to concentrate if it is lifestyle related, such as:
- Eating a balanced diet with, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.
- Eating several small meals each day.
- Getting more sleep.
- Taking steps to reduce stress (such as meditating, reading, or writing in a journal).
- Reducing caffeine intake.
- Stop drinking alcohol.
Any other treatments will depend on your specific diagnosis. For example, for people diagnosed with ADHD, they may need several different treatment approaches. This includes behavioral therapy to limit distractions or medications to improve concentration (e.g. Ritalin). It can also include parent education.