Causes of Fatigue

It’s important not to confuse sleepiness with fatigue, as fatigue can sometimes be a symptom of something serious. Knowing when to make lifestyle changes and when to seek medical attention can help restore your health. Read this to learn about fatigue.

8 minute read

Last Updated July 13, 2020

Fatigue: Causes, When to See Your Doctor, and Treatment

Fatigue is a feeling of general tiredness and lack of energy. Fatigue and sleepiness are often confused, but being sleepy is actually a symptom of fatigue. 


Being fatigued also involves a lack of motivation and no energy to do anything. Fatigue can be caused by lifestyle factors, lack of exercise, or a prolonged lack of sleep. It can also be caused by health conditions, some of which are more serious than others. 

Causes of Fatigue

There are a number of lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue:

♦ Excessive physical exertion
♦ Lack of physical activity
♦ Unhealthy diet
♦ Boredom
♦ Periods of emotional stress
♦ Grief and depression
♦ Use of alcohol and illicit drugs
♦ Lack of sleep
♦ Obesity and being overweight

When fatigue does not resolve with rest and nutrition, then amore serious medical condition could be the underlying cause. Fatigue is a common symptom of physical and mental health conditions, and with diagnosis, your doctor can help you treat the cause and restore your energy levels.  

Health conditions that are commonly known to cause fatigue, include:

Anemia: Anemia is a condition marked by low iron and a reduced count of red blood cells. As a result, oxygen does not get transported through your body as needed, leaving cells, tissues, and your body tired and fatigued. 

Arthritis: The chronic inflammation of the joints uses up energy, causing you to feel drained. Fatigue is a common symptom of all forms of arthritis.

Fibromyalgia: This chronic condition is characterized by widespread pain. Fatigue is one of the first complaints with fibromyalgia, and it does not improve with rest.  

Chronic fatigue syndrome: This is a complicated disorder that many doctors debate. It is characterized by chronic fatigue that appears to have no underlying cause. Fatigue does not improve with rest and can get worse after physical activity.

Infections: As your body fights any bacterial or viral infection, it uses up energy, leaving you fatigued.

Addison’s disease: This is a rare disease that affects your adrenal glands and in severe cases, can cause adrenal failure. Fatigue is the most common symptom of Addison’s disease. 

Hypothyroidism: An underactive thyroid causes a lower release of thyroid hormones, which regulates body functions. As a result, you feel tired and exhausted most of the day.

Hyperthyroidism: An overactive thyroid can interfere with sleep patterns and cause insomnia. Disrupted sleep will cause you to feel fatigues until the issue is resolved.

Sleep disorders: Any time your body does not get sleep as a result of a sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea, your body is tired.

Eating disorders: Anorexia nervosa and bulimia cause eating habits to change, which will negatively impact your energy levels. As a result, fatigue is common in those with eating disorders.

Autoimmune conditions: The chronic inflammation associated with autoimmune diseases uses up energy and keeps your body metabolism running fast. This causes fatigue and muscle weakness. Controlling the inflammation can help restore energy levels. 

Cancer: Both the disease and the treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy, cause fatigue. Most people will get their energy levels back within 6 months of completing treatment.

Diabetes: Poor blood sugar control and hyperglycemia can cause fatigue. Anemia is also common among those with diabetes, which can also cause you to feel fatigued.

When to See Your Doctor

If fatigue is interfering with your daily life, and you have addressed possible lifestyle causes, it is time to speak with your doctor. You also need to talk to your doctor if you notice fatigue and any of these situations:

♦ Having a higher than normal body temperature
♦ Unexplained weight loss
♦ Feeling sensitive to cold temperatures
♦ Regularly having trouble sleeping

It is also important to seek medical attention if you notice any of these symptoms, along with fatigue:

♦ Severe headache or migraines
♦ Shortness of breath
♦ Vomiting blood
♦ Pain in the chest
♦ Faintness, dizziness, or light-headedness
♦ Irregular heartbeat
♦ Severe pain in the abdomen, back, or pelvis
♦ Suicidal thoughts or severe depression

Treatment for Fatigue

The treatment for fatigue will depend on the cause. Your doctor will need to know when the fatigue started, what other symptoms you have, what medications you are taking, and what lifestyle factors could be at play. 

If your doctor suspects an underlying condition is to blame, a number of tests will be performed, starting with urine and blood tests. Medications can be given to help with sleeping, which can help reduce fatigue. Anti-inflammatory medications are also common, as many inflammatory-related diseases are known to cause fatigue. 

Natural Treatment for Fatigue

You can naturally treat fatigue and the underlying cause by promoting your overall health. By boosting your immune system, you are better able to fight infection and disease. This can reduce fatigue, as it is a common symptom of many health conditions. 

Many people are aware that vitamin C provides immune system benefits, but there is another mineral you need to include.

Zinc is found in cells all throughout the body. It is used to make the genetic material in all cells. Zinc is also important for immune system function, as it activates key immune cells known as T cells. These cells are vital in fighting infection and enhancing wound healing. 

By taking part in key immune processes, zinc can boost the body’s ability to fight and overcome illness. A more efficient immune system will prevent chronic fatigue. 

Surprisingly, most of your immune system is in your gut. The bacteria that inhabit the digestive tract make up 70 percent of the immune system. An unbalanced gut microbiome is also known to trigger widespread inflammation, which can cause fatigue. Probiotics such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus rhamnosus are recommended for maintaining this critical balance.

Along with the treatment your doctor prescribes, you can also try a few measures to reduce fatigue, boost energy levels, and restore better health. 

♦ Stay hydrated
♦ Get enough sleep
♦ Practice healthy eating habits
♦ Get regular exercise
♦ Avoid known stressors
♦ Start relaxation therapy, including yoga and meditation
♦ Avoid alcohol, smoking, and drug use

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

Most causes for fatigue are lifestyle-based and can be easily remedied. In cases where there is an underlying medical condition to blame, with proper treatment, you can restore energy levels and health. 

Fatigue can be caused by a range of factors or health conditions, and effective treatment will depend on early diagnosis. If fatigue is persistent after lifestyle issues have been addressed, then speak with your doctor so you can start treating the cause before more serious complications develop.

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