Definition of exhaustion (fatigue)
Nearly everyone struggles with being overtired or overworked from time to time. Such instances of temporary fatigue usually have an identifiable cause and a likely remedy.
Chronic fatigue, on the other hand, lasts longer and is more profound. It’s a nearly constant state of weariness that develops over time and diminishes your energy and mental capacity. Fatigue at this level impacts your emotional and psychological well-being, too.
Fatigue isn’t the same thing as sleepiness, although it’s often accompanied by a desire to sleep — and a lack of motivation to do anything else.
In some cases, fatigue is a symptom of an underlying medical problem that requires medical treatment. Most of the time, however, fatigue can be traced to one or more of your habits or routines.
Causes of exhaustion (fatigue)
Taking a quick inventory of the things that might be responsible for your fatigue is the first step toward relief. In general, most cases of fatigue may be attributed to three areas: lifestyle factors, medical conditions or psychological problems.
Feelings of fatigue often have an obvious cause, such as:
- Alcohol use or abuse
- Caffeine use
- Excessive physical activity
- Lack of sleep
- Medications, such as antihistamines, cough medicines and cold remedies
- Unhealthy eating habits
Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as:
Unrelenting exhaustion may be a sign of a medical condition or underlying illness, such as:
- Acute liver failure
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Chronic kidney disease
- COPD — Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Heart disease
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
- Hypothyroidism (a thyroid disorder)
- Medications, such as prescription pain medications, heart medications, blood pressure medications and some antidepressants
- Restless legs syndrome
- Sleep apnea
- Type 1 diabetes
- Type 2 diabetes
When to see a doctor
Schedule a doctor’s visit
Call for an appointment with your doctor if your fatigue has persisted for two or more weeks despite making an effort to rest, reduce stress, choose a healthy diet and drink plenty of fluids.
Seek immediate medical attention
Get someone to take you to an emergency room or urgent care if fatigue is accompanied by:
- Abnormal bleeding, including bleeding from your rectum or vomiting blood
- Severe abdominal, pelvic or back pain
- Severe headache
Call 911 or your local emergency medical service
Get emergency help if your fatigue is related to a mental health problem and your symptoms also include:
- Thoughts of harming yourself or of suicide
- Concern that you may harm someone else
Also get emergency care if your fatigue is accompanied by any of the following:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular or fast heartbeat
- Feeling that you might pass out