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The strict definition of fatigue found in most dictionaries is weariness or lack of energy resulting from physical or mental stress. It is different from drowsiness, which is the need to obtain sleep. The causes of fatigue are very varied, and fatigue can be a normal response to physical exercise, emotional stress or lack of sleep. It can also be a sign of medical or emotional conditions. You should discuss fatigue with your doctor when fatigue persists even though you are eating a well balanced diet, getting appropriate activity and exercise, and getting restful sleep.

What are possible causes of fatigue?

  • Anemia – low hemoglobin level in the blood that does not allow proper transport of oxygen to the cells, usually caused by iron deficiency which can be treated with diet or iron supplementation
  • Medications – most commonly sedatives, pain medications and antidepressants are known causes of fatigue
  • Chronic pain – pain stimulates certain chemicals in the brain and body and can cause fatigue
  • Regular use of alcohol or street drugs and narcotics
  • Thyroid underactivity or overactivity
  • Sleep disturbances – including insomnia, sleep apnea and narcolepsy
  • Depression or grief
  • Eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia, malnutrition or vitamin deficiencies
  • Adrenal disorders – insufficiency or overactivity
  • Diabetes
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Autoimmune disorders – lupus, Sjorgren’s syndrome, autoimmune arthritis and others
  • Severe infections – such as those that take a long time to recover from or AIDS, tuberculosis, mononucleosis and parasites
  • Liver diseases
  • Kidney diseases

What can you do for fatigue?

  • Eat a healthy, well balanced diet with adequate fluid intake
  • Get as close to eight hours of sleep nightly as possible
  • Exercise regularly
  • Try to maintain a balanced work and personal schedule
  • Relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, pilates or tai chi
  • Avoid alcohol, nicotine and drugs
  • Balanced vitamin regimen – Talk to your doctor about the best ones to use, and ask if you need to be tested for possible vitamin deficiencies.

Contact a doctor if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Unexplained weight changes
  • Constipation, dry skin or cold intolerance
  • Frequent headaches
  • Depression or sadness

Your physician may need to perform blood tests for anemia, diabetes, hormonal disturbances, kidney function and liver function, as well as test for infections.

What is chronic fatigue syndrome?
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a condition characterized by extreme fatigue unexplained by any underlying medical conditions. The most common characteristic is fatigue worsened by activity whether physical or mental, but not improved with rest. The most common symptoms include not only fatigue, but also often loss of memory or concentration, unexplained muscle pain, headaches, difficulty with sleeping and occasionally enlarged lymph nodes. There are no tests to confirm chronic fatigue syndrome. It most commonly occurs in women age 40 and older and who are overweight. Chronic fatigue often leads to depression, work absences and withdrawal from social and family interactions. Many theories exist about the cause of chronic fatigue, but none have been proven including viral infections, immune system disorders and hormonal imbalances in the hypothalamus, pituitary or adrenal glands. Therapies used presently for chronic fatigue include medications such as antidepressants and sleep aids, graded exercise, psychological counseling and stress reduction. Some patients recognize improvement with acupuncture, massage and yoga.

More about Dr. Aulds

Donald G. Aulds, MD is an Obstetrician and Gynecologist and currently serves as the Medical Director for both the Women's Center and the Best Start Program of North Alabama. He is a Diplomat of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Dr. Aulds completed his medical education at Louisiana State University School of Medicine, New Orleans, LA and his Internship and Residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Ochsner Medical Foundation, New Orleans, LA.

Dr. Aulds has been an active member of the Huntsville Hospital Medical Staff since 1980.