Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 10, 2015

Feeling tired is a normal part of modern life. For most people, everyday life can be very tiring. It's normal to feel sleepy halfway through the day; which is good news for the coffee industry. However, sometimes the feeling of tiredness can turn into fatigue. While fatigue can be caused by many things, there are also many ways of treating and preventing fatigue.


Definition & Facts

Fatigue is the term used to describe a mental and/or physical state of extreme tiredness, lethargy, listlessness, or exhaustion. There is a difference between mental and physical fatigue. Sometimes, however, they often both exist together.

It's common for those that are experiencing prolonged physical fatigue to become mentally fatigued. With physical fatigue, the body is exhausted, weak, and unable to function normally. With mental fatigue, there is more of a feeling of sleepiness and difficulty with concentration or focus.

Although most cases of fatigue are temporary ad easily identified, some people may experience chronic fatigue. Chronic fatigue last much longer and is much more exhausting. This constant state of weariness can have negative impacts on psychological and emotional well-being. It can also be harder to identify what is causing the extreme tiredness.


Most cases of fatigue can be easily explained by considering some aspects of an individual’s life. Lifestyle factors and any medical or psychological disorders or conditions should be considered. Unhealthy lifestyle choices such as alcohol use or drug abuse, poor sleep habits, lack of exercise, and unhealthy eating habits can cause fatigue.

Certain medications can cause fatigue, as well, including allergy medications with antihistamine, and cold medicines. Excessive caffeine consumption can actually cause fatigue, even though most people turn to the drink to stay awake. Fatigue is common with mental health issues, as well, including anxiety and depression. In addition, any stress brought on by life, or grief, can also make an individual feel exhausted. These things are all common causes of fatigue.

However, fatigue can sometimes be caused by some other underlying disease, illness, or medical condition. In this case, the extreme tiredness is a symptom of something else. Some conditions which can cause fatigue include cancer, emphysema, heart disease, obesity, anemia, liver failure, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, sleep apnea, and types 1 and 2 diabetes. Cancer treatment can also cause severe fatigue. Many people also suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, which can cause many problems in an individual's life, making it difficult to work.

When to see a doctor

Since fatigue can be a symptom of many things, it's important to keep an eye out for other symptoms that may signal a problem. It's wise to make an appointment with a doctor is fatigue last two or more weeks, and other possible issues have been addressed, such as diet or other lifestyle factors.

At the appointment the doctor may perform some diagnostic procedures to determine the cause of fatigue. It's very important to seek out urgent care if fatigue is accompanied by other symptoms, including severe headache, severe abdominal, back, or pelvic pain, or if there is abnormal bleeding (either from the rectum or from vomiting).

If fatigue is accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath, light-headiness or dizziness, or irregular or increased heart-rate, call 911 (call 999 in United Kingdom) or seek out emergency medical care. This could be a signal of something very dangerous, so it's very important to be checked out as soon as possible.

Treatment & Therapy

When seeking out treatment for fatigue, a doctor will evaluate medical history, any current known illness, and lifestyle habits. They may also perform a physical exam and other diagnostic tests. These tests will help to rule out any causes such as infection, hormonal issues, liver problems, anemia, or other issues.

Successful treatment depends on knowing exactly what is causing the fatigue. It the fatigue is caused by an underlying condition, treatment will geared toward treating the condition itself, or easing symptoms. For example, fatigue from anemia can be corrected with iron supplements. Problems with the thyroid or blood sugar can be helped with specific medications. If it is something related to a lifestyle choice, this can be treated easily by a change in diet or sleeping habits.

If someone is dealing with fatigue related to obesity, they may be put on a strict diet and exercise regime. With chronic fatigue syndrome, however, there is no cure. It's still uncertain what causes this disorder, so treatment is usually aimed at symptoms related to chronic fatigue syndrome; or another issue which can trigger chronic fatigue, such as fibromyalgia. Sleep is essential, so medications for sleeping may be prescribed, as well as any antidepressants or painkillers that may be necessary for other symptoms.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Preventing fatigue can be as simple as making healthy choices and making sure to get a good amount of sleep each night. Go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day and make sure to unwind before bed to assure a quality sleep. If the body is receiving the correct amount of vitamins and minerals, as well as getting the rest it needs, there is less chance of fatigue.

Consume alcohol or caffeinated beverages in moderation, and avoid any foods that can trigger fatigue. Nutritional supplements, such as ginseng, can help reduce fatigue. Avoiding excessive physical activity can help reduce the chance of physical fatigue. However, those who are mostly sedentary should make an effort to get more exercise to reduce this; being overweight or obese can make an individual extremely fatigued, so weight loss can be essential in overcoming this issue. Staying in good shape is important.

As for mental fatigue, it's important to take care of one's mental health; find ways to relax and de-stress as much as possible. Yoga is wonderful for developing coping techniques for stress, which could help with reducing fatigue. Mindfulness meditation can be very beneficial for this type of things as well. Cognitive behavioral therapy may also be beneficial for people dealing with chronic fatigue syndrome. Of course, if there is an underlying medical condition, all medications and medial instructions should always be followed closely.

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