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Fatigue

Tiredness; Weariness; Exhaustion; Lethargy

Fatigue is a feeling of weariness, tiredness, or lack of energy.

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Considerations

Fatigue is different from drowsiness. Drowsiness is feeling the need to sleep. Fatigue is a lack of energy and motivation. Drowsiness and apathy (a feeling of not caring about what happens) can be symptoms that go along with fatigue.

Fatigue can be a normal and important response to physical activity, emotional stress, boredom, or lack of sleep. Fatigue is a common symptom, and it is usually not due to a serious disease. But it can be a sign of a more serious mental or physical condition. When fatigue is not relieved by enough sleep, good nutrition, or a low-stress environment, it should be evaluated by your doctor.

Causes

There are many possible causes of fatigue, including:

Fatigue can also occur with the following illnesses:

Certain medicines may also cause drowsiness or fatigue, including antihistamines for allergies, blood pressure medicines, sleeping pills, steroids, and diuretics.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a condition in which symptoms of fatigue persist for at least 6 months and do not resolve with rest. The fatigue may be worsened with physical activity or mental stress. It is diagnosed based on the presence of a specific group of symptoms and after all other possible causes of fatigue are ruled out.

Home Care

Here are some tips for reducing fatigue:

If you have chronic pain or depression, treating it often helps the fatigue. Be aware that some antidepressant drugs may cause or worsen fatigue. If your drug is one of these, your doctor may have to adjust the dosage or switch you to another drug. DO NOT stop or change any medicines without first talking to your doctor.

Stimulants (including caffeine) are not effective treatments for fatigue. They can make the problem worse when they are stopped. Sedatives also tend to worsen fatigue.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider right away if you have any of the following:

Call your provider for an appointment if you have any of the following:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will perform a complete physical examination, paying special attention to your heart, lymph nodes, thyroid, abdomen, and nervous system. You will be asked about your medical history, fatigue symptoms, and your lifestyle, habits, and feelings.

Tests that may be ordered include the following:

Treatment depends on the cause of your fatigue symptoms.

Related Information

Drowsiness
Depression - overview

References

Bennett RM. Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and myofascial pain. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 274.

Thames TA, Karrh LR, Bajorek E, Higgins CC. Fatigue. In: Paulman PM, Harrison J, Paulman A, Nasir LS, Collier DS, Bryan S. Signs and Symptoms in Family Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 22.

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Review Date: 4/30/2015  

Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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