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Fatigue is a feeling of tiredness, exhaustion, or lack of energy. It differs from drowsiness, which is characterised by a desire or need to sleep. Fatigue can be a normal and important response to physical exertion, emotional stress, boredom, or lack of sleep. However, it can also be a symptom of a more serious mental or physical condition. When fatigue is not relieved by adequate sleep, a healthy diet, or a low-stress environment, it should be evaluated by your doctor.

If you are experiencing fatigue, you may want to learn more about the symptoms that often accompany fatigue, the various causes of fatigue, as well as how this condition is diagnosed. This section also provides advice and information on strategies and tips that help you boost your energy.

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It is important to remember that fatigue itself is a symptom, characterised by a feeling of weariness, tiredness or lack of energy. Fatigue, however, can cause a vast range of other physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

  • Low motivation
  • Chronic tiredness or sleepiness
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness or blurry vision
  • Sore, aching muscles and muscle weakness
  • Slowed reflexes or responses and impaired hand-to-eye coordination
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Appetite loss
  • Reduced immune system function
  • Impaired decision-making and judgment
  • Short-term memory problems
  • Poor concentration
  • Hallucinations
  • Reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand.
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Generally, most cases of fatigue may be attributed to three areas: lifestyle factors, medical conditions or psychological problems. Fatigue can also be caused by a number of these factors working together.

Lifestyle factors

  • Common lifestyle choices that can cause fatigue are:
  • Alcohol use or abuse
  • Caffeine use
  • Excessive physical activity
  • Lack of sleep – typically adults need 7-8 hours of sleep a night
  • Medications, such as sedatives, antidepressants, antihistamines and cold remedies
  • Lack of physical activity and sedentary lifestyle
  • Unhealthy eating habits

Medical conditions

Fatigue can be caused by medical conditions or underlying illnesses, such as:

  • Anorexia or other eating disorders
  • Acute liver failure
  • Anemia
  • Arthritis
  • Autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Cancer – according to Harvard Health , many types of cancer may cause fatigue and loss of appetite even before showing any other symptoms
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Chronic kidney failure
  • Chronic pain
  • Coeliac disease
  • Diabetes
  • Endocrine disorders such as Addison’s disease, hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • Glandular fever
  • Heart disease
  • Infections, such as parasitic infections or AIDS
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Obesity
  • Sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome
  • The flu

Psychological conditions

  • Fatigue is also a common symptom of mental health problems, including:
  • Anxiety
  • Depression or grief
  • Stress

When fatigue is not relieved by enough sleep, good nutrition, or a low-stress environment, it should be evaluated by your doctor.

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Since fatigue can be accompanied with a wide range of other symptoms and may be caused by different factors, diagnosis can be difficult. Your doctor uses a number of tests to diagnose fatigue including:

  • Review of your medical history: Recent events such as childbirth, medication or surgery can trigger fatigue. You will be asked questions about your medical history, symptoms, and your lifestyle, habits and feelings.
  • Physical examination: Your doctor will perform a complete physical examination to check for signs of illness and disease. He or she will pay special attention to your heart, lymph nodes, thyroid, abdomen and nervous system.
  • Laboratory tests: These may include blood tests, urine tests and other evaluations. This is to rule out any physical causes such as anemia, infection and hormonal problems.
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Most of the time, fatigue can be traced to one or more of your habits or routines. Feeling more energetic can be as simple as changing one small detail in your life. Studies show that when you feel energetic, you feel much better about yourself. Here are some tips for reducing fatigue and boosting your energy:

  • Exercise regularly: Physical exercise improves blood flow, boosts energy levels and has a positive effect on both body and mind.
  • Get enough sleep: Most adults need at least 7 hours sleep each night. Make the necessary changes to ensure you get adequate sleep.
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet: Increase the amount of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and lean meats in your diet. Minimise the amount of foods with high fat, high sugar and high salt contents.
  • Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast: Food boosts your metabolism and gives your body energy to burn. Better Health Channel recommends carbohydrate-rich breakfast foods such as wholegrain breads or cereals.
  • Drink lots of water: A body that is dehydrated functions less efficiently and can trigger fatigue.
  • Listen to upbeat music: Your mental and physical energy can get a big boost when you immerse yourself in music that moves you.
  • Change your stressors: Where possible, change the things that stress you by switching jobs, taking a vacation or dealing with relationship problems. It may also help to seek professional counseling to resolve family, career or personal issues.
  • Learn relaxation techniques: Constant anxiety or stress can drain the body of energy and lead to burnout. Relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation, can allow the body and mind to recover, making you feel more energised.
  • Limit caffeine: Any more than 1 to 2 caffeinated beverages a day can make you prone to anxiety and affect your sleep patterns.
  • Avoid alcohol and drug use: Despite being potentially dangerous, excessive alcohol consumption and recreational drug use both contribute to fatigue.
  • Talk to friends: Reach out to your friends if you need a boost. As social creatures, we get a real charge from connecting with other people.
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