What causes fatigue? 251 possible conditions

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What Is Fatigue?

Fatigue is a term used to to describe the general overall feeling of tiredness and/or a lack of energy. Other words that are sometimes used in place of fatigue include exhaustion, weariness, and lethargy. According to the National Institutes of Health, feeling fatigued is not the same different from just feeling drowsy or sleepy. (NIH) When you are fatigued, you have no motivation and no energy. Being sleepy may be a symptom of fatigue, but it is not the same thing.

The organization also states that fatigue is a very common symptom for a number of medical conditions—both serious and non-serious—and also a natural result of some lifestyle choices.

If your fatigue has no apparent cause, and it not going away with proper rest and nutrition, you should see your doctor. He or she can help to diagnose what is causing your fatigue and work with you to treat it.

Possible Explanations for Fatigue

There are many potential causes of fatigue, which can be divided into three general categories—lifestyle factors, medical issues, and mental health issues.

Lifestyle Factors

If you are experiencing fatigue, your activities and other lifestyle choices may be the root cause. In these cases, the reasons behind your feelings of exhaustion are often fairly easy to pinpoint. Fatigue can be caused by:

  • physical activity and excessive physical exertion
  • lack of activity
  • lack of sleep
  • being bored
  • being overweight or obese
  • periods of emotional stress
  • grief
  • taking certain medications, such as antidepressants or those that have a sedative effect
  • using alcohol on a regular basis
  • using street drugs, such as cocaine, on a regular basis
  • using narcotics
  • consuming caffeine
  • not eating a proper and nutritious diet

Medical Issues

Some medical issues and conditions that can lead to fatigue are:

  • anemia
  • pain
  • Addison’s disease (a disorder affecting your hormone levels)
  • hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  • arthritis
  • insomnia and other sleeping disorders
  • eating disorders, such as anorexia
  • autoimmune disorders
  • fibromyalgia
  • congestive heart failure
  • cancer
  • diabetes
  • kidney or liver disease
  • infection
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (or COPD, which makes it difficult to breathe)
  • emphysema
  • restless legs syndrome

Mental Health Issues

Those who struggle with anxiety and depression may experience fatigue as a symptom of their condition.

When Is it Time to See Your Doctor and How Will Your Physician Likely Address Your Fatigue?

You should arrange a visit to your doctor if you are fatigued and:

  • you cannot think of anything that might account for your feelings of weakness or fatigue
  • you have unexplained fatigue, along with a higher-than-normal body temperature
  • you have unexplained fatigue and unexplained weight loss
  • you regularly have trouble sleeping through the night or have insomnia
  • you are constipated
  • you believe you may be depressed
  • you are very sensitive to colder temperatures

The Mayo Clinic recommends seeking medical help if you have been experiencing fatigue for two weeks or more and you have made efforts to address the most common lifestyle causes, such as lack of rest, stress, and poor eating habits, without success. (Mayo Clinic)

Because there are so many possible causes of fatigue, the doctor will likely ask you a number of questions about your lifestyle, possible sources of stress, and medications you are taking. He or she will also want to know more about the nature of your fatigue, including when it started and if it gets worse at certain times of the day.

If your doctor suspects an underlying medical condition, he or she may order one or more tests to diagnose it and develop a plan for treatment. Typical tests include blood and urine tests, as well as those that test kidney, liver, and thyroid function.

When Should You Go to the Emergency Room?

While fatigue itself is not a medical emergency, you should go to the hospital right away if you experience any of the following symptoms in addition to fatigue:

  • rectal bleeding
  • vomiting blood
  • a severe headache
  • pain in the chest area
  • a feeling of faintness
  • rapid heart beat
  • irregular heart beat
  • feeling short of breath
  • severe pain in the abdominal, back, or pelvic region
  • thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • thoughts of harming another person

What Are Some Lifestyle Changes That Can Help Reduce Fatigue

There are a number of measures that can help lessen fatigue caused by a less-than-ideal lifestyle. If you are fatigued because of the way that you have been living, you should make changes to:

  • practice healthy eating habits and stay hydrated
  • exercise on a regular basis
  • get adequate sleep
  • take part in relaxing activities, such as yoga
  • avoid known stressors
  • avoid a work or social schedule that is overly demanding
  • live a smoke-free lifestyle
  • abstain from alcohol and drug use

These lifestyle changes—together with your doctor’s treatment plan for any health issues that may be causing your condition—can help ease your fatigue. Remember that although fatigue is a common symptom and complaint, it can take a physical and emotional toll on you if left untreated.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating disorder characterized by intense fatigue that cannot be cured with sleep. Mental and physical activities may cause symptoms to worsen. When fatigue cannot be linked to ...

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2

Anemia

Anemia occurs when the number of healthy red blood cells (RBCs) in the body is too low. Red cells carry oxygen to all the body's tissues, so a low red blood cell count indicates that the amount of oxygen in the blood i...

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3

Cold and Flu Overview

Overview Colds (common colds) and the flu (influenza) are contagious infections that affect the respiratory system. Both are airborne illnesses, spread through coughing and sneezing. Colds typically are confined to th...

Read more »

4

Common Cold Overview

The common cold is a virus that involves symptoms like sneezing, a runny nose and a headache. Learn the causes, symptoms and treatments for the common cold now!

Read more »

5

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread, unexplained pain in tender points in muscles and joints, including the head, neck, and sides of hips.

Read more »

6

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

Congestive heart failure is a chronic condition that affects the four chambers of the heart. Early symptoms include fatigue and weight gain. Irregular heart beat and wheezing indicate a worsening.

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7

Heart Failure

Right-side heart failure occurs when the right ventricle can't properly pump blood to your lungs to collect oxygen. Excessive fatigue, shortness of breath and abdominal bloating are signs.

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8

Chronic Bronchitis

Your bronchial tubes are responsible for delivering air to your lungs. When these tubes become inflamed, mucus can build up. The coughing and shortness of breath this causes is known as bronchitis. People often develo...

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9

Dehydration

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you drink. The most common cause of water loss from the body is excessive sweating. Headaches, dizziness, and decreased urination are symptoms.

Read more »

10

Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Also known as hypoglycemia, low blood sugar can be a dangerous condition. Hypoglycemia is rare in people who are not suffering from diabetes, the chronic disease that affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar...

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11

AIDS

HIV causes progressive failure of the immune system, making the body far more susceptible to infections and cancer.

Read more »

12

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness marked by extreme shifts in mood, from mania to depression. In mania, a person may feel extremely excited, impulsive, euphoric, and full of energy. Depression might brin...

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13

Anorexia Nervosa

Almost everyone worries about gaining too much weight. But in some people the worry becomes obsessive, causing a condition called anorexia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that can result in severe weigh...

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14

Primary Hypothyroidism

Your thyroid gland controls the metabolism of all your cells. Your pituitary gland releases a hormone known as TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) to stimulate your thyroid. Your thyroid then releases two hormones, T3 an...

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15

Low Blood Potassium

Hypokalemia occurs when the blood's potassium levels are too low. A normal level of potassium is 3.6-5.2 millimoles per liter. Levels below 3.6 are considered low.

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16

Low Blood Sodium (Hyponatremia)

Low blood sodium is also known as hyponatremia . Sodium is an electrolyte. It helps maintain the balance of water in and around your cells. Sodium is important for proper muscle and nerve function. It also keeps you...

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17

Congestive (Dilated) Cardiomyopathy

Congestive cardiomyopathy, also known as dilated cardiomyopathy, is characterized by a weak primary pumping chamber in the heart. Your heart automatically attempts to correct for this inefficiency. In turn, thi...

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18

Failure to Thrive

Your child may be diagnosed with failure to thrive if he or she falls below a healthy weight and shows signs of emotional underdevelopment. Typically, failure to thrive is discovered during a child's infant years.Idea...

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19

Obesity

Obesity is an epidemic in the U.S. This condition is putting people at a higher risk for serious diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventio...

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20

Sleeplessness

Insomnia is a serious sleep disorder. It can mean the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night, or the tendency to wake too early before having gotten enough sleep. Insomnia is often used to describ...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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