12 Reasons For Fatigue and Possible Treatments Tim Pierce/Flickr

Fatigue is an often experienced but not always well understood symptom of many different ailments. The general accepted treatment for fatigue is an increase in exercise and a re-evaluation of an individual’s dietary habits. However, it is important to understand the various underlying causes of fatigue and treat these as well as working to combat the symptom of fatigue.

These underlying causes can be roughly broken into three categories, which are: lifestyle causes, physical causes, and mental causes. Often, when an individual suffers from fatigue they have factors in all three categories, and fatigue can often lead to the development of more contributing factors, making it particularly difficult to control. Below is a list of 12 of the most common reasons for fatigue and some possible treatments. Of course, all treatments should be started under the guidance of a trained physician.

Lifestyle Causes:

  • Diets high is sugar, caffeine, or other stimulants.


Taking in sugar, caffeine, or other stimulants found in energy drinks can cause fluctuating blood sugar levels which increase an individual’s overall feeling of fatigue. To rectify this, the person should try to eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables instead of relying on quick-energy supplements. Recent studies have shown that nuts, such as walnuts, may give you a natural energy boost without causing a sugar crash.

  • Overuse of alcohol or other depressants.


It is obvious that alcohol can make an individual relaxed or sleepy while they are drinking it as well as the next day. However, it is important to realize that these effects can last well after the individual has stopped drinking. Sleep studies have shown that alcoholics have greater sleep impairments than those who do not regularly drink alcohol. Alcohol and other depressants affect an individual’s ability to fall asleep as well as the quality of their sleep. Individuals should limit their alcohol use to 1-2 drinks a day, three days a week. If an individual has chronic fatigue they should consider eliminating alcohol from their life completely. They should also be aware of depressant properties in common herbal supplements such as valerian root or lemon balm.

  • Lack of exercise or too much exercise.



When it comes to exercise both too much and too little can lead to fatigue. Too much exercise can exhaust energy stores and cause physical fatigue, which can compound when an individual continuously overexerts their self. On the other hand, too little exercise can cause lethargy that can be difficult to break. Moderate exercise has been shown to decrease fatigue in cancer patients and pregnant women, as well as decrease the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. It is recommended that adults get at least thirty minutes of exercise four days a week. Occasional days of over-exerting one’s self will not lead to chronic fatigue, but individuals should always check with their doctor before beginning a long-term, high-intensity exercise regime.

  • Lack of sleep.


Since sleep is the body’s way of regenerating it should be obvious that a lack of sleep can contribute to fatigue. Not getting enough sleep one night not only causes an individual to feel drowsy the next day, but it also may cause that individual to build up a sleep debt over time, which can contribute to feelings of fatigue even after a good night’s rest. The average adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and few adults get that much. Individuals should make sleep a priority in their life by turning off electronics an hour before bedtime and engaging in a relaxation routine before going to sleep. This can cause individuals to fall asleep more quickly and improve the quality of their sleep, resulting in less fatigue over time.

Physical Causes:

  • Nutrient deficiencies.


The two main nutrient deficiencies that cause fatigue are a lack of iron or potassium. Although anemia is the most commonly thought of type of iron deficiency, iron deficiency without anemia can also cause marked levels of fatigue. This type of iron deficiency is the most prevalent nutrient deficiency in woman of childbearing age, worldwide. To combat nutrient deficiencies an individual should first focus on eating a balanced diet. They should increase their intake of foods high in iron, such as leafy green vegetables. To increase their potassium levels they should focus on fruits such as bananas. If a nutrient deficiency is the suspected cause of fatigue in an individual they should consult their doctor for a blood test. After a positive diagnosis nutrient supplements may be prescribed, but these are often more difficult for the body to absorb than the nutrients found naturally occurring in food sources.

  • Glandular issues.


Both the thyroid gland and the adrenal gland can malfunction, causing fatigue. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can lead to fatigue. While both of these may be controlled with dietary measures, such as eliminating gluten from an individual’s diet, it is important to get a diagnosis from a physician. Adrenal insufficiency, although less commonly diagnosed, is still a fairly common culprit in the battle against fatigue. A doctor can easily test the levels of an individual’s thyroid and adrenal glands to tell if these may be effecting the patient’s energy levels. If an issue is found it is common to both prescribe medication and recommend dietary changes.

  • Diabetes.



It has long been thought that the variability of glucose levels associated with diabetes causes fatigue. Recent studies have shown that this may actually only be a correlation and not an actual causation, but have confirmed that people with diabetes do experience higher levels of fatigue than those without. While controlling an individual with diabete’s blood sugar levels is the most important focus for diabetics, physicians and individuals with diabetes might look to other ways to decrease fatigue. This can include increasing their level of exercise or performing other behavioral interventions under the care of a doctor.

  • Sleep issues.


Even when individuals get enough sleep, they can still suffer from fatigue if they are not getting high quality sleep. Waking up throughout the night diminishes the amount of REM sleep an individual gets, making them feel more tired in the morning even if they have slept for eight or more hours. Over time this poor quality sleep builds up and causes fatigue in an individual. Sleep apnea is a fairly common cause of fatigue. A symptom as simple as snoring can help to diagnose sleep problems, and can often be treated by teaching an individual to sleep in a different position or using sleep aids such as nose strips.

  • Heart issues.


Fatigue can be a symptom of underlying issues involving the heart such as acute myocardial infarction and chronic heart failure. It is an especially common indicator of heart issues in women. Unexplained feelings of fatigue while conducting tasks that an individual could previously complete without problems should cause a physician to examine the individual’s heart and circulatory system for possible ailments. This is especially important because a traditional method of relieving fatigue, such as increasing activity levels, can cause further complications if the underlying heart issue is not treated.

  • Pregnancy.


Pregnancy is often associated with chronic fatigue syndrome. During the early months of pregnancy, changing hormones can cause high level of fatigue before a woman is even aware that she is pregnant. As the pregnancy progresses fatigue may be aggravated by weight gain, blood pressure issues, and high levels of various hormones. Fatigue may continue postpartum for a few weeks up to a year. Pregnant women are encouraged to engage in moderate levels of exercise regularly and eat a well-balanced diet to treat fatigue. They should avoid stimulants such as caffeine and high amounts of sugar as well as rest frequently throughout the day.

Mental Causes:

  • Depression or grief.


Both mental and physical fatigue can be a symptom of depression. Although this correlation is well-known it has not been thoroughly studied. Grief is also known to be exhausting and can lead to depression and fatigue in an individual. Mild depression can be treated with dietary changes and light exercise. However, more severe cases of depression and mild or severe instances of grief should be treated with professional therapy and possibly medication. It is very difficult to treat the symptom of fatigue without treating the underlying cause when it is related to depression or grief.

  • Stress or anxiety.


Both stress and anxiety can lead to fatigue. These can be caused by many different factors including work, social life, chronic illness, or a lack of resources. It is not always possible to rid one’s life of the underlying factors that produce stress or anxiety. For that reason, treatments should focus on teaching individuals coping skills and relaxation techniques. This can include meditation, exercise, and communication skills. Moderate cases of stress and anxiety may need the help of a professional therapist, and extreme cases may require medication.


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