Exhaustion or Fatigue

Exhaustion or Fatigue

What is Fatigue

Nearly everyone struggles with being overtired or overworked from time to time. Such instances of temporary fatigue usually have an identifiable cause and a likely remedy.

Chronic fatigue, on the other hand, lasts longer and is more profound. It’s a nearly constant state of weariness that develops over time and diminishes your energy and mental capacity. Fatigue at this level impacts your emotional and psychological well-being, too.

Fatigue isn’t the same thing as sleepiness, although it’s often accompanied by a desire to sleep and a lack of motivation to do anything else.

In some cases, fatigue is a symptom of an underlying medical problem that requires medical treatment. Most of the time, however, fatigue can be traced to one or more of your habits or routines.

Fact about Fatigue

  • Fatigue (either physical, mental or both) is a symptom that may be difficult for the patient to describe and words like lethargic, exhausted and tired may be used.
  • Taking a careful and complete history is the key to help making the underlying diagnosis of the cause for the symptom of fatigue. However, in about a third of patients the cause is not found and the diagnosis is not known.
  • There are numerous causes of fatigue symptoms. Examples of some treatable causes of fatigue include anemia, diabetes,thyroid disease, heart disease, COPD and sleep disorders (Table).
  • Long lasting complaints of fatigue do not equate to chronic fatigue syndrome. Specific criteria as set by the CDC need to be met to make that particular diagnosis.

Causes of Fatigue

Taking a quick inventory of the things that might be responsible for your fatigue is the first step toward relief. In general, most cases of fatigue may be attributed to three areas: lifestyle factors, medical conditions or psychological problems.

Lifestyle factors
Feelings of fatigue often have an obvious cause, such as:

  • Alcohol use or abuse
  • Caffeine use
  • Excessive physical activity
  • Inactivity
  • Lack of sleep
  • Medications, such as antihistamines, cough medicines and cold remedies
  • Unhealthy eating habits

Psychological conditions
Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Stress

Medical conditions
Unrelenting exhaustion may be a sign of a medical condition or underlying illness, such as:

  • Acute liver failure
  • Anemia
  • Cancer
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD
  • Emphysema
  • Heart disease
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  • Hypothyroidism (a thyroid disorder)
  • Medications, such as prescription pain medications, heart medications, blood pressure medications and some antidepressants
  • Obesity
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Sleep apnea
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes

What are the signs and symptoms of Fatigue?

Fatigue is a symptom of an underlying disease and is described in many ways from feeling weak to being constantly tired or lacking energy.

There may be other associated symptoms depending upon the underlying cause.

  • Individuals with heart disease, lung disease, or anemia may complain of associated shortness of breath or tiring easily with minimal activity.
  • Persons with diabetes may complain of polyuria (excess urination), polydypsia (excess thirst), or change of vision.
  • Those who have hypothyroidism may also have symptoms of feeling cold, dry skin and brittle hair.

It is important that the health care professional consider the complaint of fatigue in the context of the whole patient to try to come to an accurate causative diagnosis.

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