Fatigue is defined as extreme tiredness from mental or physical exertion. Everybody experiences fatigue, and this can increase with age. We have all experienced coming home extremely tired from work or social events. Some jobs can be extremely challenging, and situations like having a newborn baby can cause a lot of fatigue. In general, fatigue occurs when we do not rest enough. Our body needs time to recover after working and studying, but it also needs time after situations that cause us stress, anxiety or sadness.
Even though fatigue is present with every person, it can also be a symptom for medical conditions. In fact, fatigue is one of the most common symptoms why people consult their doctors. Clinicians need to determine if the referred fatigue is due to overworking, or if there is an underlying medical condition.
Feeling tired becomes a problem when it affects health and safety. Everyday tasks like driving, or working can become challenging when fatigue gets in the way. If you feel that being tired is affecting your everyday life, you should consult your doctor. Another sign to keep an eye on, is how long you’ve been feeling fatigue for. If you have been feeling deeply tired for two to four weeks, it is very possible that your fatigue is secondary to an underlying medical condition. If this is the case, what can your fatigue mean?
8 Conditions That Can Cause Fatigue
- Poor sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene is a term that refers to healthy and consistent habits that improves the quality of your sleep. Usually, it involves a night time routine that includes a sleeping schedule, unplugging of electronics, meditating, etc. in some cases, people have a hard time falling asleep, or the quality of the sleep is not good. Sleep deprivation is the first cause of fatigue; we need to rest our body. In fact, lack of sleep translates to what is called sleep debt, and your body will claim that debt until it is fully paid, making you feel tired until you rest. The sleep debt can accumulate for years. Sleeping properly and cultivating sleep hygiene can help you get rid of fatigue.
- Depression and anxiety
Mental health problems can cause fatigue. Anxiety and depression can present themselves as fatigue, sleepiness, and lack of motivation.
Anemia means low levels of hemoglobin, and can be caused by many different reasons. Hemoglobin is a protein that carries the oxygen to the cells. In patients with anemia, the oxygen does not reach the cells; causing fatigue, dizziness and paleness of the skin.
- Hormonal imbalance
Changes in the levels of hormones can cause fatigue. Hypothyroidism is a very common condition where the thyroid does not produce enough hormones; the most common symptom of this condition is fatigue, heaviness, and sleepiness. Diabetes is the third most common disease among Americans, it occurs when the pancreas does not produce insulin-causing sugar levels to rise. One of the symptoms of diabetes is fatigue and tiredness.
- Being overweight and obesity
Being overweight is defined as a BMI (body mass index) > 24kg/m2, being obese is having a BMI > 30kg/m2. When we are above the healthy weight range, many negative changes occur, including hormonal imbalances like hypothyroidism and diabetes. Besides hormonal changes, obesity and difficulty sleeping causing sleep apnea, this is a condition where people stop breathing at night, causing them to wake up multiple times. Patients with sleep apnea snore at night, and because of the lack of continuous sleep are heavily tired during the day at a level that affects everyday tasks.
Being pregnant causes many changes in the body to accommodate the growing baby, including increase of the metabolic rate, changes in circulation, and hormone levels. It is expected for women to feel tired and fatigued during pregnancy and these changes can be noticed from the first trimester of pregnancy. In some cases, women consult with their doctor on feeling fatigue to find out that they are indeed actually just pregnant.
- Electrolyte deficiency
Electrolytes, like potassium, have a key role on all the basic body functions like muscle contractions and neural connections. Low levels of potassium will cause fatigue because the muscles contractions are weaker, making the person feel tired and heavy. Usually, electrolyte deficiency is secondary to medical conditions (chronic renal disease and heart failure), but it can also happen because of nutritious deficiency.
This might seem contradictory since people drink coffee to feel more awake and energized. Caffeine blocks some of the brain receptors that cause sleepiness, keeping us awake and energized. Some people become resistant to caffeine; after long exposure the brain receptors will not react to caffeine anymore, and coffee will make you feel tired instead of energized. Additionally, caffeine has been linked with anxiety and jitteriness. Essentially caffeine affects the sleep-wake cycle affecting the ability to rest during the night.
Fatigue can be secondary to overworking and under-sleeping and in some cases, taking the time to rest will make you feel better. Remember, if you are feeling too tired to do your daily duties, or if the fatigue period lasts longer than 2-4 weeks you should visit your doctor.