Fatigue is when you feel extremely tired and lacking energy, not just a little sleepy. It’s like having no get-up-and-go at all. Feeling sleepy can be a part of fatigue, but they’re not exactly the same. It can happen because of different health issues, some not so serious and others more severe. It can also come from certain lifestyle choices, like not exercising enough or eating poorly.

Fatigue: What You Really Need To Know

What Causes Fatigue?

Many factors can contribute to chronic fatigue, and here are some of the key ones:

  • Lack of Sleep
  • Stress
  • Poor Diet
  • Lack of Exercise
  • Mental Health conditions
  • Overexertion
  • Environmental Factors

Chronic Fatigue may be an Early Sign of Several Diseases

Many people with chronic fatigue often experience pain, but it can be different for each person. This pain isn’t because of an injury. Some people with chronic fatigue might also have other issues such as:

  • Tender lymph nodes.
  • Sore throat.
  • Digestive problems.
  • Night sweats.
  • Allergies and sensitivities.
  • Weak muscles.
  • Breathing issues.
  • Irregular heartbeat.

Drugs and Medication

Many drugs used to treat various sicknesses have side effects that cause fatigue. Antidepressants, antihistamines, and steroids can cause feelings of sluggishness, decrease your concentration, and make you feel light-headed. Studies in the Archives of Internal Medicine have proven that many prescription statin medications used to treat low cholesterol can cause fatigue.[1]

There are also many joint pain supplements that can reduce the pain caused by various joint conditions such as arthritis, osteoarthritis, etc. One such product to look out for is Omega XL which consists of powerful ingredients that target the root cause of joint pain.

Irregular Sleep Cycles

Irregular Sleep Cycles

Those who have sleep problems such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and insomnia commonly suffer from fatigue. Disturbances in your sleep cause you anxiety and stress, which can lead to fatigue. This can be caused not only by sleeping disorders such as the ones mentioned above, but also jetlag, working late, or constant disturbances such as a crying baby or loud noises. A research study conducted by Martijn Bours et al published in Cancers Journal suggested that poor sleep quality consistently led to increased fatigue levels at all measured times. Alternatively, too much sleep or extended periods of sleep during the day can also cause fatigue.[2]

Bad Nutrition

Individuals who are overweight or underweight are more likely to experience fatigue than someone who is healthy and physically fit. 

Poor nutrition can be a major cause of fatigue. When your body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs, it can’t function at its best. A research study conducted by Matteo Cesari et al published in Nutrients Journal suggested that poor nutrition in older adults can make them more tired by causing inflammation and problems with their energy-producing mitochondria.[3] 

Obese people exert an extreme amount of work on their bodies and are also more prone to other diseases. Underweight people often lack strength and can get tired easily. Eating the right kind of food is important in order to give your body the strength it needs. The nutrients that are important for energy production include Carbohydrates, Protein, Fats, B vitamins, and Iron. Eating too much-processed stuff, sugary drinks, or bad fats can mess with your energy. They make your blood sugar go up and down, leaving you feeling tired and slow. If you’re tired a lot, talk to your doctor to check for health problems. But, changing what you eat can often boost your energy.

How Mental Health can lead to Fatigue?

Fatigue is common for those who are depressed or suffer from mental illnesses such as eating disorders, substance abuse, or anxiety. All these things can stress and make any individual suffering from them more prone to fatigue. Your body deals with stress by releasing adrenaline to combat whatever crisis you are facing. If you are constantly stressed, your body is continuously at work, which causes exhaustion. Depression is very draining and already reduces energy levels. A research study conducted by Julius Burkauskas et al published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice suggested the relationship between mental fatigue and functional outcomes in individuals with psychiatric disorders.[4] Depending on the chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome association of America, the prevalence of CFS is estimated to be 0.5% to 2.5% of the population or 836,000 to 2.5 million people in the United States.[5]

Disrupted Sleep Patterns: Mental health conditions can lead to difficulties falling asleep, frequent nighttime awakenings, or restless sleep, resulting in daytime fatigue due to poor-quality sleep.

Physical Symptoms: Conditions like depression and anxiety can take a physical and emotional toll, depleting your energy and leaving you feeling fatigued.

Reduced Motivation: Mental health challenges often reduce your interest and motivation for daily activities, leading to a sense of tiredness and lethargy.

Constant Worry: Conditions like generalized anxiety disorder can lead to persistent worrying and rumination, mentally draining you and contributing to fatigue.

Changes in Appetite: Mental health issues can alter your eating habits, either causing overeating or a loss of appetite, which can affect your energy levels.

Stress Hormones: Chronic stress from mental health issues can lead to the release of stress hormones like cortisol, which can deplete your energy levels and contribute to fatigue.

Isolation and Withdrawal: People with mental health challenges may withdraw from social interactions and isolate themselves, leading to reduced physical activity and mental stimulation, both of which can lead to fatigue.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Fatigue?

The major symptom of fatigue is the sensation of severe exhaustion after any activity which doesn’t relieve with rest. Chronic fatigue disables the patient thus he can’t resume his routine activities. Most patients describe it as being overwhelmed and tired all the time. Some of the common symptoms of fatigue include: 

  • Persistent fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Sore or achy muscles
  • Muscle weakness
  • Slower reflexes and responses
  • Impaired decision-making and judgment
  • Mood swings (like irritability)

How To Diagnose Fatigue?

As we mentioned before, fatigue is a general symptom for multiple illnesses so it’s very crucial to evaluate the patient’s condition in a comprehensive way. Following is the best way to diagnose the cause of fatigue:

  • Evaluation of the Complaint of Fatigue: It’s important to know some details about the complaint itself; for example, the onset, duration, character, timing, any associated symptoms, and any relieving factors.
  • Take full details about the sleeping hours and pattern of the patient: Sleep is very related to fatigue, so it’s very important to take full details about the sleeping hours, sleeping patterns, total sleeping hours, and other details.
  • Full Medical History: Evaluation of the patient for any previous illnesses, any recent health problems, and any medications that he used to take regularly.
  • Life Pattern: It’s very useful to ask about the pattern of the patient’s life, diet, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and emotional problems.
  • Examination: The doctor will do a full physical exam for the patient.
  • Diagnostic Tests: Many tests may be done for the patient to rule out any physical cause of fatigue; those may include, blood tests, urine tests, imaging studies, x-rays, etc.
  • What are the Types of Fatigue?

    Physical fatigue is the more commonly known type of fatigue that people experience, but mental fatigue is just as common. Usually, the two go hand-in-hand, and if you are experiencing physical fatigue, you are feeling mental fatigue as well. Just as physical fatigue decreases your ability to perform physically, mental fatigue decreases your ability to perform mentally. Those experiencing mental fatigue feel tired and cannot seem to concentrate and exercise their thoughts properly.

    Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Type

    Another type of fatigue is emotional fatigue, which makes people irritable and emotional. People experiencing emotional fatigue are prone to mood swings or outbursts. Those kinds of fatigue are the same as chronic fatigue syndrome, which is a symptom related to arthritis. You should be able to get treatment or help in order to manage any sort of fatigue you might have.

    Impact of Fatigue on Your Life

    There is no exact or precise way to measure fatigue, but you can ask your doctor to help you manage the fatigue you are experiencing. You can try to assess the level of your fatigue by rating on a scale the following: the severity of your fatigue, the level of stress caused by your fatigue, your physical and mental tiredness, your ability to cope with your fatigue, and level of effect you think your fatigue has on your life.

    Don’t be afraid to admit that fatigue is affecting your daily life. Experts say that 10% of people suffer from persistent tiredness and one in every 5 claims that their fatigue is severe and interferes with their daily life. Fatigue can prevent you from performing the tasks you need to do and can interfere with plans you made ahead of time. It can make you too tired and exhausted to the point where you feel as though you need to lie down and rest before you can carry on with your day.[6]

    What is the Treatment for Fatigue?

    Treatment of fatigue depends mainly on the cause. If the cause is physical, the patient should be treated depending on this physical cause. If the cause is emotional, it’s better to convert the case to a specialist in this field to treat it. If you suspect depression, tell your patient to consult a psychiatrist to arrange a proper management plan.

    If you have been diagnosed with depression, once you treat depression, your fatigue will improve. But keep in mind that some antidepressants may itself cause fatigue. Try to arrange that with your doctor.
    Always remember that stimulants; especially caffeine, are not a good way to treat fatigue. In fact, those may make your fatigue worse once you stop them.

    Can Fatigue be Prevented?

    Following are some tips to prevent fatigue:

    • Sleep enough time in a good relaxing environment
    • Eat a balanced healthy diet
    • Drink enough amount of water daily
    • Do regular exercises
    • Yoga is a great option for relaxation
    • Don’t overwork, be reasonable
    • Try to avoid any stressful conditions
    • Avoid alcohol
    • Avoid drug abuse
    • Stop smoking

    How to deal with Fatigue

    Try to identify what is causing your fatigue then determine ways to help you manage or reduce it. Speak to a doctor about the problems you are having and ask for help in pinpointing the cause of coming up with a solution. Don’t self-medicate without seeking professional help first and never let your fatigue prevent you from living your life. Here are some self-help tips to beat fatigue such as:

    • Engage in physical activity
    • Weight loss for increased energy.
    • Prioritize quality sleep.
    • Stress reduction for energy enhancement.
    • Utilize talking therapy against fatigue.
    • Eliminate caffeine.
    • Decrease alcohol consumption.

    ConsumerHealthDigest Medical References:

    • Kirwan JR, Minnock P, Adebajo A, et al. Patient perspective: fatigue as a recommended patient centered outcome measure in rheumatoid arthritis. J Rheumatol 2007; 34:1174–7.
    • Repping-Wuts H, Hewlett S, van Riel P, et al. Fatigue in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: British and Dutch nurses’ knowledge, attitudes and management. J Adv Nurs 2009;65:901–11
    • Belza BL. Comparison of self-reported fatigue in rheumatoid arthritis and controls. J Rheumatol 1995; 22:639–43
    • Cella D, Lai JS, Stone A. Self-reported fatigue: one dimension or more? Lessons from the Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy Fatigue (FACIT-F) questionnaire. Support Care Cancer 2011; 19:1441–50

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    6 Sources

    We review published medical research in respected scientific journals to arrive at our conclusions about a product or health topic. This ensures the highest standard of scientific accuracy.

    [1] Drugs and Medication : https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine
    [2] The Association between Sleep Quality and Fatigue in Colorectal Cancer Survivors up until Two Years after Treatment: A Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Analysis : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8945971/
    [3] Nutritional Status as a Mediator of Fatigue and Its Underlying Mechanisms in Older People : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7071235/
    [4] Mental fatigue in individuals with psychiatric disorders: a scoping review : https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36215092/
    [5] Epidemiology : https://www.cdc.gov/me-cfs/healthcare-providers/presentation-clinical-course/epidemiology.html
    [6] Demographic correlates of fatigue in the US general population: results from the patient-reported outcomes measurement information system (PROMIS) initiative : https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21843744/

    Felicia Newell, RD, CPT

    Felicia Newell, RD, is a Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist, Food and Nutrition Expert, Writer, and Health Coach.