Common causes of fatigue

Fatigue causes people to feel weak or low in energy. Fatigue differs from tiredness in that tiredness can be resolved with sleep, whereas fatigue doesn’t typically improve with increased amounts of sleep.

While fatigue is a non-specific symptom that often has no known cause, there are specific medical conditions known to cause fatigue. When these conditions are diagnosed and treated, patients typically experience an improvement or resolution of their symptoms. Here are four of these common causes.

1) Hypothyroidism

 Hypothyroidism is a condition that causes the thyroid gland to be underactive. Since thyroid hormones are necessary for the body to produce energy, low levels of thyroid hormones cause patients to feel sluggish and fatigued.

Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include unexplained weight gain, constipation, dry skin, cold sensitivity, thinning hair, depression, a slow heart rate and irregular periods. Anyone with these symptoms should have blood work done to determine if hypothyroidism is causing their symptoms. Hypothyroidism is typically treated with an oral medication that raises thyroid hormone levels.

2) Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which the body lacks an adequate amount of healthy red blood cells. Because red blood cells contain hemoglobin that carries oxygen throughout the body, a low red blood cell count leads to low oxygen levels in the body’s organs.

While anemia can have many causes, the symptoms are similar regardless of which form of anemia a patient has. These symptoms often include fatigue, shortness of breath, pale skin, a fast heart rate, dizziness, headaches and chest pain.

Anemia is diagnosed with blood tests. Depending on the severity and cause of the anemia, treatment options include iron supplements, vitamins, blood transfusions, bone marrow transplants or other medical procedures.

3) Vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D is not a vitamin, but a hormone that’s produced by the skin when it’s exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D can also be ingested from supplements and food. Vitamin D is important for calcium absorption, immune health, insulin regulation, lung health, cardiovascular health and sleep regulation, as well as bone, muscle and teeth health.

Signs and symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include fatigue, depression, muscle weakness, low bone density and delayed wound healing.

Vitamin D levels can be measured by a simple blood test. Vitamin D supplements are the most common treatment for patients who are found to be deficient.

4) Sleep apnea

 Sleep apnea is a disorder in which people stop breathing multiple times an hour while they’re asleep. When they stop breathing, their carbon dioxide levels rise, triggering the brain to wake them up so they can take a breath.

This constant disruption of deep sleep often leads to fatigue, daytime drowsiness, headaches, concentration difficulties and depression. Other signs and symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring or snorting, gasping for air while asleep, and waking up with a dry mouth.

Risk factors for sleep apnea include obesity, a large neck circumference, smoking, nasal congestion, and the use of alcohol or other sedatives.

Sleep apnea is diagnosed by performing a sleep study. The most common treatment is a device called a CPAP machine that assists breathing while patients are asleep.

Tips for reducing fatigue

Here are some tips that can help reduce fatigue.

a)  Make sure you are getting enough sleep each night. Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

b)  Make sure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day.

c)  Regular exercise can help boost energy levels and reduce fatigue. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise for most days of the week.

d)  Stress can be a major contributor to fatigue. Try stress-reduction techniques such as yoga, meditation, and or deep breathing exercises.

e)  Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption

f)  Exposure to sunlight can help regulate your circadian rhythm and boost your mood which can help reduce fatigue.

g)  Take regular breaks during work, even a short break can help you recharge and feel more energized.

Remember, if you’re experiencing chronic fatigue, it’s important to talk to a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying medical conditions.

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Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant