What is Fatigue?
Fatigue is a symptom rather than a specific illness or disorder. While it is common to have the occasional day where you feel tired and less energetic than usual, people suffering with fatigue feel tired and lethargic all the time and seem to lack energy.
Affecting both body and mind, long periods of fatigue can seriously impair your daily functioning and make even the simplest of life’s responsibilities difficult to cope with. Both physical and mental fatigue are the first signs that the body is being damaged and placed under unhealthy stress.
While many cases of fatigue can be rectified by changes in nutrition, environment, stress levels or sleep patterns, it may also be a symptom of a more serious problem. Because it is such a common complaint, it is often overlooked and relatively few people seek medical advice or take the necessary steps to changing an unhealthy lifestyle.
If you have been suffering with chronic fatigue it is important to examine your life-style and take action. If your fatigue continues, a medical evaluation is recommended.
Is Fatigue a Serious Problem?
If fatigue becomes an ongoing problem it is important to address it. The first step is to take a look at life-style factors that may be contributing to your feelings of fatigue.
If however the fatigue continues or you feel that you don’t have the energy to address life-style problems, it is advisable to seek medical advice to rule out any serious conditions and explore treatment options.
It is especially important to call your general health practitioner if you present with other symptoms.
Your doctor will ask you to describe the fatigue symptoms that you are experiencing. Keep a record of when you feel fatigued as the pattern of your fatigue may give clues to the underlying cause. For example note if you wake up feeling refreshed, but rapidly lose energy through the day, or if you wake up feeling tired and energy-less.
Your doctor will also need to ask about your medical history, your current life-style and how you’ve been feeling emotionally lately. A full medical check may also include blood tests to check for anemia, thyroid function, and possible infection as well as a urinalysis.
Symptoms of Fatigue
Fatigue symptoms can be accompanied by or manifest in a range of other physical and emotional complaints. These include:
- Constant tiredness or sleepiness
- Lack of energy
- Desire to sleep more
- Aching muscles or joints
- Muscle weakness
- Slower reflexes and responses rates
- Indecision and poor judgment
- Low mood, irritability or depression
- Changes in appetite
- Lowered immune system functioning
- Problems with short term memory
- Attention difficulties and poor concentration
- Poor motivation
What Causes Fatigue?
Modern Western diets, environmental pollution and the use of alcohol, recreational drugs and prescription medicines take their toll on liver functioning and on the healthy functioning of all body systems.
Causes of fatigue vary and isolating the exact cause may be a difficult process. Below are some of the various causes of fatigue that may need to be examined.
Life-style Causes of Fatigue
- Too little sleep is one of the most obvious causes of fatigue, and yet it is often over-looked. People often under estimate the number of hours sleep they actually need in order to function optimally. The average person needs between 7 and 8 hours of sleep per day. When living a busy life, sleep is often the first thing we compromise. Chronic Insomnia, especially where you are sleeping but just not getting enough restful sleep is also a common cause. Adjusting sleep patterns may also help.
- A stressful life-style or too much anxiety may also lead to feelings of physical and mental fatigue. Stress has a serious affect on the physical body and prolonged or excessive stress can lead to Adrenal Fatigue – causing you to feel very run down and worn out.
- Lack of exercise. This is often a "catch-22" situation as you may feel too tired to exercise and think that it will make you feel even more fatigued. On the contrary, regular exercise (even 30 minutes per day) will increase energy levels and stamina.
- Unhealthy diets or vitamin deficiency. Our bodies function optimally on a nutritionally balanced diet. Eating too much sugar and wheat or not eating enough fresh fruit, fiber and vegetables may lead to feelings of chronic fatigue. Also ensure your body is getting enough liquids through out the day, but avoid high caffeine intake! Iron deficiency – either due to inadequate iron in the diet or due to problems with iron absorption – can also contribute to fatigue.
- Reaction to certain medications. Some prescription or OTC drugs including antihistamines, certain cold and flu medications and beta blockers can all cause fatigue. Certain anti-depressants may also cause insomnia which results in fatigue. Check all the side effects of any allopathic medication if fatigue is a constant worry.
- Working environment. A stressful work environment can contribute to mental fatigue. Long hours or burnout can also result in feelings of fatigue. Shift work is another major cause of fatigue as the body is designed to sleep during the night. The body’s central clock or circadian rhythm is dictated by the brain and the neurotransmitters that regulate states of alertness and states of sleep.
Medical Causes of Fatigue
Fatigue may be related to a number of underlying medical conditions and a proper diagnosis is important. Should fatigue symptoms not clear after making the appropriate lifestyle changes, it is recommended that you consult your physician. The following list includes some of the more common medical causes of fatigue:
- Ongoing sleep disorders such as insomnia, narcolepsy, or sleep apnea
- Chronic Pain
- Allergies that cause hay-fever or asthma
- Poor immune system functioning and chronic infection
- Hypothyroidism (under active thyroid)
- Addison’s Disease
- Adrenal gland imbalances
- Certain illnesses (e.g. heart, liver or kidney disease)
- Anorexia or other eating disorders
- Vitamin and mineral deficiency
- Circulatory disorders and heart disease
- Excessive Candida overgrowth in the digestive tract
- Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) or Periodic Limb Movement (PLM)
- Regular use of alcohol or drugs
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Help for Fatigue
Fatigue will be treated according to the underlying cause. In some cases, simply adjusting your life-style to include appropriate dietary, exercise and sleep needs will be enough to combat fatigue. In other cases where medical causes are at play, treating the medical illness is the first plan of action.
Natural herbal and homeopathic remedies can be a great help when trying to combat fatigue. Certain herbs are known for their tonic effect on systemic functioning as well as their ability to increase strength and endurance, while energizing both mind and body.
Herbs such as Siberian Ginseng, Olea europea (extract of olive leaf) and Centella asiatica are commonly used to fight fatigue and boost energy without negative side effects - like those possible with pharmaceutical or dietary stimulants.
These herbal ingredients can be taken to naturally assist overall systemic functioning, help to balance all body systems naturally and are often taken by athletes, those recovering from illness or those that need the extra boost to help manage a busy life-style.
More Information on Fatigue
Tips for Coping with Fatigue
- Get into a regular sleep pattern. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep and that the sleep is undisturbed and restful. Try cutting out caffeine or other stimulants at least 5 hours before bedtime and do not exercise, watch TV or do anything else that may be mentally stimulating before going to sleep.
- Exercise! While exercising may be the last thing on your mind when you don’t seem to have enough energy to face the day, it may be just what you need! Keeping physically active is vital for stress relief, healthy sleep and building stamina.
- Eat a healthy nutritional diet. A balanced diet will energize the body and mind and help you cope better with the demands of life. Steer clear of foods high in sugar and wheat as these create temporary "highs" only to be followed by periods of fatigue. Eat regularly to keep blood sugar levels up and drink plenty of water.
- Reduce stress. Try keeping stress levels low and finding ways to better cope with those stressful life demands that keep arising. Prioritize, organize and find time to relax. Learn to say no to additional responsibilities that you can’t cope with and seek professional counseling or go to a stress management course if you struggle to cope with stress management.
- Quit smoking and cut down on alcohol. Smoking replaces some of your body’s oxygen supply with toxic carbon monoxide and the build up of toxins can cause fatigue. Alcohol also increases toxic build up and acts as a nervous depressant thus causing fatigue. Alcohol at night also causes poor sleep.