Fatigue/Low Energy: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Fatigue is the medical term used for an overall feeling of low energy and tiredness. It can be a symptom of a health condition, but it also carries its own symptoms listed here. If it becomes chronic, it’s essential to seek medical care. Find out more here.

7 minute read

Last Updated July 17, 2020

Fatigue/Low Energy: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Fatigue is the medical term used for an overall feeling of low energy and tiredness. It is different from feeling sleepy because when you are fatigued, you have no energy. 

Sleepiness is a symptom of fatigue. Fatigue occurs as a result of some lifestyle choices, but it could also be a symptom of several health conditions. Fatigue caused by a health condition can range from mild to serious and required treatment. If it does not resolve itself with proper rest, then you need to see your doctor. 

Symptoms of Fatigue

Fatigue or low energy can be a symptom of a health condition, but it also has symptoms of its own. Exhaustion with any mental or physical activity is the main symptom of low energy and fatigue. Common signs of low energy levels include:

♦ Aching muscles
♦ Lack of motivation
♦ Daytime drowsiness
♦ Difficulty concentrating
♦ Headaches
♦ Irritability
♦ Slowed response time
♦ Vision problems

Causes of Fatigue

Your activities and lifestyle choices could be the cause of your fatigue. Common lifestyle causes of low energy include:

♦ Lack of sleep
♦ Physical exertion
♦ Boredom
♦ Grief
♦ Lack of physical activity
♦ Too much caffeine
♦ Regular consumption of alcohol
♦ Unhealthy diet
♦ Obesity or being overweight

Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle and menopause can also be a cause for low energy in females. Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and seasonal affective disorder can cause low energy. There are also physical conditions that can cause low energy levels and fatigue. 

Anemia: Anemia is characterized by an iron-deficiency, which means there is not enough iron to produce red blood cells. As a result of reduced red blood cell production, energy levels are low as oxygen is not reaching your organs as needed.

♦ Addison’s disease: This disease occurs when your adrenal glands do not produce enough cortisol. As the disease progresses, individuals feel weaker and have less energy. Blood pressure also drops with Addison’s disease, which compounds the fatigue and low energy levels.

Cold and flu: In the presence of a cold or viral flu, your immune system diverts all energy to attacking and killing the infection. With energy going to one location, there is little left for the rest of your body, which leaves you feeling tired and low on energy.

Chronic fatigue syndrome: CFS is a complicated disorder characterized by chronic fatigue, but there is not an underlying medical condition to blame. Energy levels are consistently low, and physical or mental activity can worsen the feeling.

COPD: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a collection of diseases that impact your airways. These inflammatory conditions damage the airways making breathing more difficult and labored. More energy is expended, leaving you feeling tired and fatigued.

Fibromyalgia: This condition is characterized by musculoskeletal pain and chronic fatigue. The widespread pain of this disorder is thought to be associated with inflammation, which drains the body of energy. 

Hypothyroidism: In hypothyroidism, your thyroid gland is underactive, so hormone production and release are reduced. As a result, your body processes slow down, which leaves you fatigued and low on energy.

Hyperthyroidism: Hyperthyroidism is characterized by an overactive thyroid gland. With this gland in overdrive, you experience symptoms of anxiety at a chronic level, which depletes your energy levels even if you are at rest. Low energy can be one of the first signs of an overactive thyroid.

Sleep disorder: Sleep deprivation or insomnia caused by any sleep disorder prevents your body from getting adequate rest. When this becomes chronic, you will notice a continuous lack of energy and fatigue throughout each day.

Eating disorders: Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa cause a person to obsess over their weight and diet. By avoiding food and reducing caloric intake, you also reduce the energy. 

Type 2 Diabetes: When you do not control your blood sugar levels with type 2 diabetes, you can develop hyperglycemia. Low energy and fatigue are common symptoms of hyperglycemia that can be avoided with careful glucose monitoring. Individuals with diabetes are also at increased risk for anemia, and this can contribute to low energy. 

Autoimmune disorders: Autoimmune disorders involve the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy tissues and organs. The chronic inflammation present with these disorders has the body on a continual state of alert. With energy being expended even at rest, you are left fatigued. 

Kidney disease: Any damage to the kidney or kidney disease prevents the kidneys from doing their job. Toxins build up in the bloodstream, which makes it harder to concentrate and reduces energy levels. 

Liver disease: Low energy and extreme fatigue is a common symptom of liver disease. As the disease and damage progress, energy levels become more reduced, and this is thought to result from neurotransmitter changes in the brain as a result of impaired liver function.

Emphysema: This lung condition makes it difficult to breathe because the air sacs in your lungs are damaged. Labored breathing requires more energy than normal breathing, which puts additional strain on your body, causing low energy.

Arthritis: The low energy associated with arthritis is related to the widespread inflammation the disease causes. Inflammation may be localized at the joints, but it speeds up metabolism, which uses up energy. This leaves you tired after doing hardly any activity at all. 

Treatment for Low Energy

Most people will reach for a caffeinated beverage or low carb energy drink to boost their energy levels. While this may give you a temporary boost, overall fatigue and chronic low energy cannot be treated effectively in this way. 

Treatment will be based on the cause of your fatigue. Diagnostic testing will be used to determine if there is a medical condition to blame, and then treatment will begin accordingly. If lifestyle changes are needed to improve energy levels, the following changes can be made.

♦ Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water
♦ Eating small and frequent meals throughout the day
♦ Exercising on a regular basis
♦ Getting enough sleep each night
♦ Avoiding known stressors
♦ Trying relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

Chronic fatigue and continued low energy levels can take a toll on your life. Without the energy and motivation to complete daily activities, it can be difficult to work or even perform everyday functions. 

Low energy can also be the result of a serious health condition that requires treatment. Untreated fatigue can damage your physical and mental health, so you need to seek treatment and follow the recommended care plan your doctor provides.

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