What is Fatigue?

Fatigue can be described as a lack of energy and motivation (both physical and mental). Most times, fatigue is often confused with drowsiness. Drowsiness, a term that describes the need to sleep. When you’re fatigued, you have no motivation and no energy. Being sleepy may be a symptom of fatigue, but it’s not the same thing. 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.

Fatigue is a common symptom of many medical conditions that range in severity from mild to serious. It’s also a natural result of some lifestyle choices, such as lack of exercise or poor diet. If your fatigue doesn’t resolve with proper rest and nutrition, or you suspect it’s caused by an underlying physical or mental health condition, see your doctor. They can help diagnose the cause of your fatigue and work with you to treat it.

Individuals with fatigue may have three primary complaints; however, it can vary in each person.

  • There may be a lack of motivation or the ability to begin an activity;
  • The person tires easily once the activity has begun; and
  • The person has mental fatigue or difficulty with concentration and memory to start or complete an activity.

What are the causes of fatigue?

There are various causes of fatigue and they can be classified into three main categories:

  • lifestyle factors
  • physical health conditions
  • mental health issues

1. Lifestyle factors

If you’re experiencing fatigue, your activities and other lifestyle choices may be the root cause. For example, fatigue can result from:

  • Excess physical activities
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Lack of sleep
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Periods of emotional stress
  • Medications, such as antidepressants or sedatives, cough medicines
  • Boredom
  • Grief
  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • Consuming too much caffeine
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Jet lag disorder

2. Physical health conditions

Many medical conditions can also cause fatigue. Examples include:

  • Anemia
  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Infections, such as cold and flu
  • Addison’s disease, a disorder that can affect your hormone levels
  • Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid
  • Hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid
  • Sleep disorders, such as insomnia
  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

3. Mental health issues

Mental health conditions can also lead to fatigue. For example, fatigue is a common symptom of anxiety, depression, and seasonal affective disorder.

When is it time to see your doctor?

You should make an appointment with your doctor if you’re feeling fatigued when you:

  • can’t think of anything that might account for your fatigue
  • have a higher-than-normal body temperature
  • have experienced unexplained weight loss
  • feel very sensitive to colder temperatures
  • regularly have trouble falling or staying asleep
  • believe you may be depressed

If you’ve made efforts to address the most common lifestyle causes, such as lack of rest, poor eating habits, and stress, without success, and your fatigue has continued for two weeks or more, make an appointment with your doctor.

In some cases, your fatigue might be caused by a serious medical condition. Go to the hospital immediately if you experience fatigue along with any of the following symptoms:

  • rectal bleeding
  • vomiting blood
  • severe headache
  • pain in your chest area
  • feelings of faintness
  • irregular heartbeat
  • shortness of breath
  • severe pain in your abdominal, back, or pelvic region
  • thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • thoughts of harming another person

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