Most people experience low energy at some point. But it's not always simply a matter of being tired. Sometimes it's fatigue, a problem that can be more complicated.
According to Anne Hartley, MD, an internist at Rush University Medical Center, the difference between tiredness and fatigue is not always easy to define. However, with tiredness you can usually identify why you're tired, and it will go away with adequate sleep or rest, she explains. Fatigue doesn't always have a cause you can put your finger on. It tends to be more persistent and impair your ability to function normally.
When to see a doctor. "Fatigue is your body trying to tell you something," Hartley says. "It's a fairly common reason people see a doctor."
Often it can be traced to a habit or routine — such as a poor diet, lack of exercise, stress or chronically getting inadequate sleep. But, Hartley says, "If it's going on without those things, fatigue may have a medical or psychological cause."
Those causes could include diseases of the heart or lungs, such as heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder; diabetes; an underactive thyroid; or obstructive sleep apnea. Fatigue may also point to anxiety or depression or be linked to medications.
"If fatigue lasts more than a week and isn't accompanied by a readily identifiable cause, it's time to see a doctor," Hartley says. "We can often uncover a cause and help patients feel better and have more energy."
If you have persistent fatigue, talk with a doctor. To find one, call (888) 352-RUSH (7874).
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