When You Should Worry About Fatigue
In India, the incidence of heart disease and diabetes may be on the rise, but for nearly a quarter of the country’s population, those conditions are still not their topmost health concerns. Instead, they’re more worried about fatigue.
Defined simply, fatigue is a problem involving a physical and mental state of being extremely tired.
Recently, the editor-in-chief of health journal Harvard Men’s Health Watch, Dr. Howard LeWine, said that it’s common for all of us to go through periods of low energy and even a week of feeling more tired than usual. However, if this feeling lasts for a week or longer, it’s not just plain exhaustion. There’s more to it, such as an underlying illness or infection that needs medical attention.
LeWine says if physical or mental fatigue — which are different but can occur together — is accompanied by symptoms such as a low-grade fever, shortness of breath or loss of appetite, then it’s time to see a doctor.
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However, fatigue should not be confused with sleepiness. The difference is that sleepiness can happen when a person doesn’t have enough good-quality sleep, or when there is a lack of stimulation. But if the sleepiness is persistent and, like LeWine says, leaves the person feeling exhausted upon waking, demotivated to begin the day and struggling to do activities that are ordinarily easy, it’s fatigue that is probably arising out of a sleep disorder or depression.
Fatigue that lasts longer than a week always has a cause, he says, which means it sticks around as long as its underlying condition does. Often, fatigue is a sign of an infection such as a cold, the flu, malaria or tuberculosis, among others. Sometimes, fatigue might be because of more chronic conditions such as diabetes, anemia, hypothyroidism, liver disease and more. Other time, fatigue may be the side effect of medication. And still other times, fatigue may be due to mineral or vitamin deficiencies.
Fatigue could also be the result of one’s lifestyle: for instance, consuming too many caffeinated or alcoholic beverages close to bedtime, too much or too little physical activity, or even being over or underweight can all disrupt normal sleep.
To get to the underlying cause, doctors say, sometimes all that is needed is a blood test. Therefore, LeWine says, if a few nights of good sleep haven’t energized you more, it’s time to get checked out.