Fatigue is a term used to describe an overall feeling of tiredness or lack of energy. It isn’t the same as simply feeling drowsy or sleepy. 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.
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.
What causes fatigue?
There are many potential causes of fatigue. They can be divided into three general categories:
physical health conditions
mental health issues
If you’re experiencing fatigue, your activities and other lifestyle choices may be the root cause. For example, fatigue can result from:
lack of physical activity
lack of sleep
being overweight or obese
periods of emotional stress
taking certain medications, such as antidepressants or sedatives
using alcohol on a regular basis
using illicit drugs, such as cocaine
consuming too much caffeine
not eating a nutritious diet
Physical health conditions
Many medical conditions can also cause fatigue. Examples include:
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
congestive heart failure
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
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 and 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:
pain in your chest area
feelings of faintness
shortness of breath
severe pain in your abdominal, back, or pelvic region
thoughts of suicide or self-harm
thoughts of harming another person
How will your doctor treat fatigue?
Your doctor’s recommended treatment plan will depend on what’s causing your fatigue. To make a diagnosis, they will likely ask you questions about:
the nature of your fatigue, including when it started and whether it gets better or worse at certain times
other symptoms that you’ve been experiencing
other medical conditions that you have
your lifestyle and sources of stress
medications that you’re taking
If your doctor suspects you have an underlying medical condition that’s causing your fatigue, they may order some medical tests. For example, they may order blood or urine tests.
What are some lifestyle changes that can help reduce fatigue?
A number of measures can help lessen fatigue caused by daily activities. To help boost your energy levels and overall health:
drink enough fluids to stay hydrated
practice healthy eating habits
exercise on a regular basis
get enough sleep
avoid known stressors
avoid a work or social schedule that’s overly demanding
take part in relaxing activities, such as yoga
abstain from alcohol, tobacco, and other illicit drugs
These lifestyle changes may help ease your fatigue. It’s also important to follow your doctor’s recommended treatment plan for any diagnosed health conditions. If left untreated, fatigue can take a toll on your physical and emotional well-being.