Health Information

When Rest Doesn't Relieve Fatigue

Fatigue is often described as being "bone tired" – a feeling of overwhelming weariness and lack of motivation or energy. Everyone feels this way now and then, but this kind of fatigue is usually short-lived and can be eased by getting enough sleep, reducing stress, and making changes to your eating and exercise habits.

Sometimes, though, those common cures just won't work, or you have other symptoms in addition to fatigue. That's when you need to talk with your health care provider about the possibility that something more serious might be going on.

When fatigue may mean something more serious

Fatigue is a symptom that can have many causes. It may be the only symptom, or it may occur with other symptoms. Fatigue that doesn't ease with lifestyle changes may be the result of a sleep disorder, a mental health issue, or a medical condition. Some of the most common medical causes of fatigue include:

  • Depression

  • Medications

  • Medical conditions, including pregnancy

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome

  • Cancer treatment

This article discusses noncancer-related fatigue.

Depression

Everybody feels down now and then. But depression is a much more serious problem. If your fatigue lasts two or more weeks and comes with feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, and/or thoughts of suicide, you may have depression. If you have thoughts or plans to harm yourself or others, seek help immediately. Depression can interfere with your eating and sleeping habits, as well as with work and family time, even with activities that usually bring you pleasure. It's a disabling condition but can often be controlled. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, including fatigue, talk with your health care provider about treatment options.

Medications

Both over-the-counter (OTC) medications and those prescribed by your health care provider can cause you to feel sleepy or fatigued. OTC medications that can cause drowsiness include pain relievers, cough and cold medicines, antihistamines, and allergy medicines. Prescription medications that can cause fatigue include tranquilizers, muscle relaxants, sedatives, and blood pressure drugs.

Medical conditions

Many medical conditions can cause fatigue, including chronic (long-term) illnesses. Here are some examples:

  • Allergies

  • Anemia

  • Eating disorders

  • Bacterial or viral infections

  • Cancer

  • Congestive heart failure

  • Diabetes

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea

Talk with your health care provider about your symptoms so that he or she can make an accurate diagnosis and determine whether you have a more serious medical condition or even chronic fatigue syndrome.

Treating your fatigue

Treatment for fatigue can be a complex task. Getting an accurate diagnosis is the most important task in determining how to treat your symptoms. To do this, your health care provider will likely check your medical history and examine you for signs of disease. He or she may also request blood and urine samples for analysis.

Here are things you can do at home to ease fatigue:

  • Eat a balanced diet that includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and drink plenty of water.

  • Get regular exercise, within the limitations of your condition.

  • If you have a medical condition that causes fatigue, join a support group, where you can learn from others about how to cope.

  • Learn new relaxation techniques, such as meditation and yoga.

  • Manage your schedule and responsibilities. Don't be afraid to say "no."

  • Avoid alcohol, drugs, caffeine, and tobacco. They can make your symptoms worse.