Fatigue is tiredness commonly caused by strain and lack of sleep. It can also be caused by a wide range of illness and disease such as anemia, infections, low metabolism, depression, diabetes etc. Fatigue brings about slow reflexes and reduced function in daily life. Such symptoms are known risk factors in motor vehicle and workplace accidents.
If you have constant tiredness for six months and all other diseases have been ruled out, doctors tell you that you have chronic fatigue syndrome.
Why should I be aware of this?
Fatigue affects many people and can be a result of another illness or condition such as multiple sclerosis or depression. It can also occur as a side-effect of certain medications. It is important to treat fatigue as it can severely affect a person’s quality of life.
All about fatigue
Fatigue can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from the kind of lifestyle we lead, the work we do, to diseases we may be having:
Many diseases and disorders can trigger fatigue, including:
- Glandular fever
- Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome
- CFS/ME (formerly known as chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalopathy)
- Chronic pain
- Coeliac disease
- Addison’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Heart problems
- Certain medications.
Common lifestyle choices that can cause fatigue include:
- Inadequate sleep – We often don’t get the required 8 hours sleep due to work and other commitments. New parents are most sleep deprived
- Alcohol and drugs - alcohol slows the nervous system and disturbs normal sleep patterns. Other drugs, such as cigarettes and caffeine, stimulate the nervous system leading to insomnia.
- Disturbed sleep - on account of noisy neighbors, young children who wake in the night, a snoring partner, or an uncomfortable sleeping environment such as a stuffy bedroom.
- Sedentary life and lack of regular exercise - physical activity, apart from improving fitness, reduces stress and helps you sleep. Regular exercise is also a good cure for anxiety and depression.
- Improper diet – Our bodies don’t function at their best if we consume too much of carbohydrate diets or high energy foods that are nutritionally poor. They worsen fatigue.
- Illness or injury – to oneself or family members can worsen fatigue.
Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:
- Working in shifts – When we work during night shifts sleeping during the day is usually difficult, because the person’s brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) are naturally set to ‘wakefulness’ mode.
- Poor workplace practices – such as long work hours, hard physical labor, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), stressful work environment (such as excessive noise or temperature extremes), boredom, working alone with little or no interaction with others, or fixed concentration on a repetitive task, can add to a person’s level of fatigue.
- Stress at place of work – such as job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, constant change, or threats to job security.
- Workaholic behavior – wherein we put all our energies into our career, putting family life, social life and personal interests out of balance.
- Unemployment - financial pressures, feelings of failure or guilt, and the emotional exhaustion of prolonged job hunting can lead to stress, anxiety, depression and fatigue.
At least 50 per cent of fatigue cases are found to be due to psychological causes such as:
- Depression - Severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic tiredness.
- Anxiety and stress - a person who is chronically anxious or stressed keeps his body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
- Grief – over loss of loved ones cause a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness, leading to fatigue
Tiredness and fatigue
The difference between tiredness and fatigue is that the former happens to everyone at one time or another. It is normal to feel tired at the end of a long and hard and a good night’s sleep can restore you to normalcy. Fatigue, on the other hand, is an excessive whole-body exhaustion and lack of energy which is not relieved by sleep. Chronic or acute fatigue can prevent a person from functioning normally, and ultimately affects his quality of life.
Who are prone to fatigue?
- Young People - Frequent late night activities, not getting enough sleep, taking risks, and being on the roads during night-time hours can bring about fatigue among young people.
- Shift Workers – Those who work night shifts are more likely to have disrupted sleep patterns which lead to fatigue more often.
- Goods Vehicle Drivers –Goods vehicle drivers are under huge time pressures which often make them push themselves to the limit.
- People with Sleep Disorders – If such people are left untreated, some conditions such as sleep apnoea and insomnia can lead to disrupted sleep on a regular basis.
What can I do about it?
- Manage your stress: Practice relaxation. Take time out for yourself.
- Get exercise: Start slowly. Do something you like. Find a good time to exercise. Find a partner.
- Check out your medications.
- Improve your diet: Eat a good breakfast (whole grain cereal, fruit, milk). Add more fruits and vegetables.
- Stop the caffeine habit.
- Give up smoking.
- Have sex with your spouse or partner.
- Get enough sleep: Have a routine. Go to bed at the same time every night.
- Avoid coffee, tea, or caffeinated drinks after 6 pm.
- Drink no alcohol after dinner and decrease the total amount of alcohol
A 1998 Canadian study of over 900 cancer patients showed that 77% of them reported fatigue as the most severe side effect associated with their cancer treatment. Among all treatment related symptoms, pain, nausea and vomiting, fatigue can be most distressing and can have a profound effect on a cancer patient’s quality of life.
Cancer related fatigue is different from normal fatigue in that it can be persistent, more severe than normal fatigue and is unrelieved by rest.