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Chronic Fatigue: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

If you’re tired and even lethargic a lot of the time, you may be feeling it.  Everyone gets tired from time to time.  Maybe you’re under stress or have had a bad night of sleep.  But when is fatigue normal and when does it become a medical problem? Is it chronic fatigue? I have had chronic fatigue for more than 15 years. Here are some of the things I’ve learned while researching about chronic fatigue.

chronic fatigue

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What is fatigue? 

Fatigue is your body’s natural way of slowing you down so that you can get the rest you need.  When you’ve been mentally, emotionally, or physically stressed, your body needs time to recover, and it does that by making you feel like stopping in your tracks.

If you feel that way for a day or two after a major event in your life, there’s not much to worry about.  This is usually resolved with a day or two of rest.  For example, if you go through a major life change such as marriage, divorce, death in the family, or a big move, you need to rest to recover.

Fatigue means having very little energy for mental and/or physical tasks.  When you feel fatigue, you’re not motivated to get things done.  You may actually feel irritable and even apathetic about doing anything.

Symptoms of chronic fatigue

What is the difference between feeling tired and experiencing symptoms of chronic fatigue?  That’s a very good question, and it’s important to understand the difference.  If you’re just a little tired, you can recover quickly, but long bouts with fatigue could signal a problem.

If you have a really busy week at work and put in overtime, by the time Friday rolls around you feel beat.  You get home and just want to rest in front of the TV, sleep late on Saturday, and stay in your pajamas all weekend.

But when Monday rolls around, you feel refreshed, and you’re able to go back to working hard.  Your body needed a little time to recharge. But once you give it that rest, you can go back to normal activities.

Fatigue becomes a problem when it lasts a long time and has other symptoms.  For example, you also may feel a lack of energy so strong that it gets in the way of accomplishing your daily life tasks.  You may not have the energy to keep your house clean or to go to work.

People who experience chronic fatigue may also have trouble remembering important tasks and focusing on the job at hand.  It can really impede your ability to get things done for yourself and your family. It can also be accompanied by problems with concentration and memory.

When should you worry that fatigue is a bigger problem?  Most healthcare experts recommend that you seek attention if you feel fatigue consistently for six months, even if you don’t have any other symptoms.

But if you have fatigue for several weeks and it’s accompanied by other symptoms such as muscle and joint pain, headaches, or swollen glands you’ll want to talk to your healthcare provider sooner.  Fatigue and other symptoms could signal that you have an underlying illness.

If fatigue can’t be relieved by rest and is getting in the way of you performing your daily activities, it’s enough cause for concern.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

While fatigue can signal a serious illness, it can sometimes be related to a condition that’s easily treatable.  It can also come on with no known cause.  When people present with chronic fatigue that has no known cause, they’re often diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

This is a syndrome that may be a result of a previous infection – one you may not even know about.  While researchers haven’t pinpointed the cause of it, you’ll still be able to treat the symptoms of fatigue so that you can get some relief.

When you feel like you can’t take care of your duties in life and you even feel apathetic about it, you’ll need to speak with your doctor.  Determining the cause of fatigue may be simple or complex, but either way, you can get relief.

While there’s no definitive cause for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, many researchers believe that it could be related to infections that have occurred previously.  For example, if you had a viral infection such as Epstein-Barr, it may leave your immune system compromised and lead to this syndrome.

It’s important to see your healthcare provider to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.  Fatigue could be a sign that you have an infection or illness.

If other conditions are ruled out, and you’re diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you may be worried that there’s no hope.  But you should know that there is research being done all the time to help treat this condition.

Causes of Chronic Fatigue

If you’re struggling with feeling tired all the time, you may be interested in finding the cause of fatigue in your body.  Fatigue can actually be caused by many different things.  Some of them are simple and harmless while others can be a serious cause for concern.

Some common underlying causes of fatigue include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, or an infection.  You may also have problems with fatigue if you have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea.

Sometimes, in addition to feeling fatigued people also experience a sore throat, muscle fatigue or pain, and headaches.  There is no actual known cause for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  You’ll be diagnosed after other possible causes of your symptoms are ruled out.

Stress

The most common cause of occasional fatigue is stress on your mind and body.  If you’ve had a hard week at work or home, exerted yourself more than usual physically, or had a major life change fatigue can help you to get the rest you need.

When it comes to this type of healthy fatigue, your body will feel renewed after rest.  If you feel refreshed and can resume your normal activities, you don’t have anything to worry about. This is just your body’s natural defense mechanism to slow you down.

However, if you have fatigue for a long period, it could signal that something else is going on.  Many health conditions can cause fatigue, and you’ll want to make sure that you get a diagnosis and proper treatment.

Infection

Sometimes infections can cause fatigue as a symptom.  Infections such as Epstein-Barr virus, mononucleosis, and Lyme disease can cause fatigue in addition to some other symptoms.

Thyroid dysfunction

Thyroid dysfunction can also be a culprit when it comes to fatigue.  If you have hypothyroidism, your thyroid gland will actually be causing you to have a slow metabolism.  You could feel sluggish and put on weight without changing your lifestyle.  This condition is treatable.

Hepatitis

Hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver, can also cause fatigue. There are several different types of hepatitis, and your healthcare provider may want to rule these out depending on your specific symptoms.

Other illnesses

Serious illnesses such as cancer and AIDS can also cause fatigue.  Usually, these diseases will also come with other symptoms.  You’ll want to discuss your symptoms carefully with your healthcare provider to see if you’re at risk for these conditions.

Treatments

Many people refuse to seek treatment because they’re afraid of what they may find out.  But the truth is you don’t need to be afraid.  When you speak with your healthcare provider, you may be surprised that what is fatigue could actually be something treatable.

When you speak with your healthcare provider, you’ll want to make sure and mention all of your symptoms.  In fact, it’s a good idea to keep a journal to track your symptoms when you realize that there’s something more going on than feeling a little tired.

The good news is that with intervention, most people will see improvement in their symptoms.  You’ll either discover that you have a treatable underlying infection or illness or that you don’t have an underlying cause.  Either way, you can begin working on a treatment plan to reduce your symptoms of fatigue and get back to your real life.

The goal of treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is to relieve you of symptoms.  Since there’s no known cause, there’s no magic bullet for this syndrome.  Instead, you’ll probably find that you try several different treatment options to determine if your symptoms improve.

Your protocol may include taking pain relievers, antidepressants, antibiotics, allergy medications, or medications that are in the category of stimulants.  You may also want to consider alternative medicine therapies.

For example, some people have good results from acupuncture and herbal remedies.  Before you take an herbal formula, make sure you discuss it with your healthcare provider.  Herbal remedies can have interactions with other medications you’re taking.

It’s also important that when you’ve been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that you take care of yourself.  You’ll need to learn how much activity you can handle and when to stop.

You’ll also want to avoid the urge to just stay in bed all the time. Bed rest can actually make Chronic Fatigue Syndrome worse and lead to more problems with depression.

You may also want to seek support if you’re dealing with this condition.  Chronic illness of any kind can be difficult to cope with, and you may want to talk to others.

The good news is that most of the time you can determine the underlying cause of fatigue and then get back to your normal daily activities.  In the cases of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, you may have to change your lifestyle and start a healthcare regimen, but you can have relief.

Resources

Here are a few books you might be interested in if you would like to know more about Chronic Fatigue.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome by Michael T. Murray

From Fatigued to Fantastic by Jacob Teitelbaum, MD

The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution by Jacob Teitelbaum, MD

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Medical advice should always be obtained from a qualified medical professional for any health conditions or symptoms associated with them. Every possible effort has been made in preparing and researching this material. We make no warranties concerning the accuracy, applicability of its contents or any omissions.

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