What is fatigue?
Short-term fatigue, that weary feeling you get after a stressful day or a long trip, is normal. But long-term, constant fatigue’the kind you feel every day, no matter what you’ve been doing’is not.
Fatigue is one of the most common complaints of people who visit a doctor. It can be a side effect of prescription drugs. Fatigue can also be caused by conditions such as depression, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux, or sleep apnea (a breathing disorder that causes frequent awakening during the night). Thyroid disease affects 15 percent or more of adults and is a common cause of tiredness. About 10 to 15 percent of women in North America have iron-deficiency anaemia, which causes fatigue. (Causes of iron-deficiency anaemia include a heavy menstrual flow or blood loss from a bleeding ulcer.) A simple blood test can help your doctor diagnose both conditions. Some older adults lose the ability to absorb vitamin B12 from food, which also causes anaemia. Vitamin B12 deficiency can be detected by a blood test and is treated by injections or by giving high oral doses of the vitamin.
Who is at risk for fatigue?
In most cases, fatigue is caused by the lifestyle choices we make’smoking, drinking, a poor diet, too little exercise, overeating, and plain old lack of sleep. Fatigue may also accompany loneliness or boredom.
Treatment for fatigue
If you are often tired for reasons you can’t explain, see your doctor, who can determine whether there is a medical explanation and suggest an appropriate course of treatment. If your fatigue is not due to an underlying illness or condition, adopting certain changes in your lifestyle, diet, and exercise habits can make a significant difference.
- Cut down on caffeine. If you’re hooked on caffeine, you have to consume more and more of it to get a stimulating effect. Cutting down will reduce your tolerance, so a cup of joe will perk you up again. Note that, especially in older people, caffeine’s effects can last as long as 10 hours, so make your noontime fix your last of the day.
- Nix nicotine. Like caffeine, nicotine is a stimulant, so you’d think it would give you more energy. But the opposite is true. Smoking lowers the oxygen levels in your blood, and since the muscles and tissues need oxygen for energy, the result is fatigue.
- Make fitness a habit. When you exercise, your body releases energizing neurotransmitters called endorphins. Exercise also increases the amount of oxygen-rich blood reaching your brain and muscles and increases the number of blood cells in the body. And it makes you sleep better, too. Moreover, if you’re in shape, everyday activities such as hauling groceries are less tiring.
- Get enough rest. Only 35 percent of people sleep the recommended eight hours per night during the week. Make sleep time a priority. And remember, you can’t ‘catch up’ for lost sleep on weekends.
Prevention of fatigue
- Get complex. Complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain foods, fruits, and vegetables provide lasting energy because they take a long time to digest. Many also provide B vitamins needed for energy.
- Make like a sheep and graze. Eating multiple small meals throughout the day helps stabilize your blood-sugar levels, preventing the lows that can make some people feel tired.
- Skip the sweets. Sugar provides a quick pick-me-up, but that brief energy burst is usually followed by a bust that leaves you more tired than you were before.
- Get enough magnesium. Many people don’t get enough magnesium, a mineral essential for energy production. Good food sources include whole grains, green vegetables, avocados, bananas, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
- Energize your inner self. Try yoga, meditation, or qigong (ancient Chinese breathing and meditation exercises) to revitalize yourself.
- Check your meds. Certain medications, including some beta-blockers, the antidepressants paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft), and the antianxiety drug alprazolam (Xanax), can produce fatigue as a side effect. Some over-the-counter pain medicines may interfere with your sleep because they contain caffeine’more than you’d find in a cup of coffee. Check with your doctor to determine if your medications might be contributing to your fatigue.
- Switch your allergy medicine. All over-the-counter antihistamines may cause fatigue. Ask your doctor about prescription allergy drugs; they are less sedating.
- Do it daily. Take a multivitamin with minerals every day to make sure you get enough B vitamins (which aid carbohydrate and protein metabolism and blood cell formation), magnesium (critical to energy production), and other important nutrients.
- Energize with ginseng. Consider taking either Panax ginseng (100 to 250 mg) or Siberian ginseng (100 to 300 mg) twice day. Both of these herbs have been shown to help fight fatigue.
- Stimulate your senses. Some people find the scent of essential oils such as sandalwood and lemon invigorating. Use them in a diffuser or place a few drops on a handkerchief. Add a couple of drops of lavender oil to a pre-bedtime bath to help you sleep.
- Stay connected. Avoid isolation, which can lead to boredom and depression, both of which can cause fatigue. Stay involved by joining a club or community association, or become a volunteer.