When it comes to the causes of fatigue, many things can be responsible. Fatigue can be described as the lack of energy and motivation (both physical and mental). This is different from drowsiness, a term that describes the need to sleep. Often, a person complains of feeling tired and it is up to the health care professional to distinguish between fatigue and drowsiness, though both can occur at the same time.
Aside from drowsiness, other symptoms can be confused with fatigue including shortness of breath with activity and muscle weakness. All these symptoms can occur at the same time. Fatigue can be a normal response to physical and mental activity. In most normal individuals, it is quickly relieved (usually in hours to about a day, depending on the intensity of the activity) by reducing the activity. Fatigue can also be due to a variety of medical conditions and health problems.
Some causes of fatigue can include anemia, thyroid conditions, diabetes, lung and heart disease, and having recently given birth. If a health condition, such as diabetes, is diagnosed and properly managed, the fatigue may go away. A healthful diet and regular physical activity can help reduce fatigue for many people.
What Are The Types of Fatigue?
There are two different types of fatigue that can affect individuals. They are physical fatigue and mental fatigue.
When a person has physical fatigue, he or she finds it physically hard to do the things they normally do or used to do, e.g climbing stairs. Physical fatigue usually comes with muscle weakness, and diagnosis may involve a strength test.
On the other hand, when someone has mental fatigue, that person finds it harder to concentrate on things and stay on task. The person may feel sleepy, or have difficulty staying awake whiles working.
9 Common Causes of Fatigue
There are many potential causes of fatigue. Here are some of the mot common causes:
Mental health issues: It can result from stress, bereavement and grief, eating disorders, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, anxiety, moving home, boredom, and divorce. the fatigue can occur with clinical depression, either due to the depression itself, or because of associated problems, such as insomnia.
Drugs and medications: Some antidepressants, antihypertensives, statins, steroids, antihistamines, medication withdrawal, sedatives, and anti-anxiety drugs can cause fatigue. Changes in doses or stopping medications can also be a cause.
Heart and lung conditions: Pneumonia, arrhythmias, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), valvular heart disease, coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, GERD, acid reflux, and inflammoatory bowel disease (IBD) can cause fatigue.
Other health problems: Cancer, chemotherapy, myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), radiation therapy, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia, systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, massive blood loss, and weakened immune systems can all cause fatigue. Fatigue can also be a sign of infection. Some infections that cause extreme tiredness include malaria, tuberculosis (TB), infectious mononucleosis, cytomegalovirus (CMV), HIV infection, flu, and hepatitis, among many others.
Chemicals and substances: Vitamin deficiencies, mineral deficiencies, poisoning, and consuming too many caffeinated or alcoholic beverages may disrupt normal sleep, hence cause fatigue, especially if these are consumed too close to bedtime.
Chronic pain : Patients with chronic pain often wake up frequently through the night. They typically wake up tired and poorly rested, unable to get good quality sleep. The combination of pain and lack of sleep can cause persistent tiredness and fatigue.
Being overweight or underweight: Being overweight increases the risk of fatigue, for various reasons. These include having to carry more weight, being more likely to have joint and muscle pain, and being more likely to have a condition where fatigue is a common symptom, such as diabetes or sleep apnea. Similarly, a person who is underweight may tire easily depending on the cause of their condition. Eating disorders, cancer, chronic disease, and an overactive thyroid, can all cause weight loss along with excessive tiredness and fatigue.
Associated Signs and Symptoms
There are several signs and symptoms that can accompany fatigue. If you have any of these symptoms, it means you need to relax a bit and visit your doctor to check you out properly. Some the associated symtoms could be as a result of an underlying medical condition which needs to be treated.
Symptoms generally tend to get worse after exertion. They may appear some hours after activity or exercise, or possibly the next day. Watch out for things like:
- Body aches.
- Aching or sore muscles.
- Apathy and lack of motivation.
- Daytime drowsiness.
- Difficulty in concentrating or learning new tasks.
- Gastrointestinal problems such as bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea.
- Irritability and moodiness.
- Slowed response time.
- Vision problems, such as blurriness.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Fatigue presents with a range of symptoms. It is caused by a number of different factors working in combination. That makes finding a diagnosis more difficult. Therefore, your doctor will try to determine what is causing fatigue by taking your medical history, physical examination and using a number of tests, including blood work, urine screens, X-rays, and other imaging.
Treatment for fatigue will depend on the cause. Some treatments for conditions that cause fatigue include medications, vitamins, diet, exercise, and avoiding unhealthy habits such as smoking, using drugs, or drinking alcohol in excess. Lifestyle changes are helpful in easing fatigue. It is also important to follow your doctor’s treatment plan for any diagnosed medical condition. Left untreated, fatigue can negatively affect your physical and mental health.
Fatigue prevention (both physical and mental) is possible in many people. Prevention of the underlying cause in almost every situation will prevent the symptom of fatigue. There are a number of things you can do on your own to lessen fatigue caused by daily activity, and boost energy levels and overall health. These include:
- Staying hydrated.
- Eating healthy foods.
- Exercising regularly.
- Getting enough sleep.
- Avoiding known stressors.
- Sex with your spouse.
- Avoid over-demanding work and social schedules.
- Practicing relaxation activities, such as yoga.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
- Medscape – The Evaluation and Management of Fatigue.
- National Institute on Aging – Fatigue in older adults.
- Mayo Clinic Staff – Fatigue.
- American Academy of Neurology – MS quality of life, depression, and fatigue improve after mindfulness training