What is the Definition of Fatigue?


Fatigue is ‘that state … characterised by a lessened capacity or motivation for work … usually accompanied by a feeling of weariness, sleepiness, irritability or loss of ambition’. It is derived from the Latin word fatigare, to tire. Fatigue is a common presenting symptom in primary care, accounting for about 5 per cent of adult visits. 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, and severe enough to disrupt an individual’s ability to participate in key social and/or occupational activities, it warrants a thorough investigation.

Common Causes of Fatigue

Experiencing occasional fatigue is not abnormal. Taking an honest inventory of things that might be responsible for your fatigue is often the first step toward relief.

Fatigue may be related to:

  • Lifestyle factors
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Excess physical activity
  • Jet lag disorder
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Medications, such as antihistamines, cough medicines
  • Not enough sleep Unhealthy eating habits
  • Fatigue Treatment at Home

The first home remedy you should try for fatigue is sleep. A good night or two of rest usually eliminates fatigue and restores your energy. Other techniques for treating fatigue include:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Managing your stress
  • Quitting smoking
  • Reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, as these can interfere with restful, deep sleep

Should there be no improvement, you can keep a fatigue diary to help your doctor begin the diagnostic process. Take note of when episodes of fatigue hit. Include the day and time of the fatigue, everything you ate and drank that day, when you turned the lights out to sleep and when you woke, and if you exercised.

Workplace Anxiety

Is workplace anxiety aggravated by one’s personality, or could the workplace be “at fault”?

Psychiatrist’s Answers

When Should I See A Doctor If I Feel Fatigued?

Episodic fatigue, particularly when connected to one of the common causes (eg. too little sleep), can usually be corrected without the help of a medical professional. If you are continually fatigued, look at the possible lifestyle causes above and do your best to correct them. Prolonged fatigue occurs daily for one month or longer. Chronic fatigue lasts for six months or longer. If you have tried to correct the lifestyle causes, and your fatigue is prolonged or chronic, then see your family doctor and seek a proper diagnosis.

Some other common causes for fatigue are:

  • Anaemia (lack of blood)
  • Electrolyte abnormalities (salt imbalance)
  • Heart, lung, liver and thyroid abnormalities
  • Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, grief
  • Metabolic disease such as diabetes
  • Auto-immune disease such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis
  • Obstructive sleep apnoea (snoring)
  • Cancer
  • Infectious disease (eg. Tuberculosis)
  • Side effects from medication

Who to See for Fatigue and What to Expect?

If you experience fatigue on an ongoing basis and it does not respond to self-care at home, see your family doctor. He or she will likely take a thorough health history to determine if lifestyle issues could be at the root of your fatigue. After a physical examination, you will need to undergo some blood tests, imaging to rule out underlying disease as stated above.

If your doctor cannot make a diagnosis from this routine testing, then he or she may suggest you consult a specialist based on your test results. This would mean undergoing more advanced tests to look for unusual causes of fatigue, such as cancer, Addison’s disease, or infection (eg. HIV). Once your doctor gets to the bottom of the fatigue issue, they can work with you on how to solve it.