At one stage in our lives, we’ve all suffered from fatigue. It can be as mild as a slight headache or end up as a chronic syndrome lasting months. Fatigue is also so often confused with tiredness, but if you’ve been a victim – like so many of us – you’ll agree, it’s more than just feeling tired.
Did you know that over 34 million people have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) worldwide? But it gets worse; 1/3 of people suffering from fatigue cannot accurately pinpoint the cause of their fatigue, which makes it hard to recommend possible remedies.
Today, more than 1 in 3 people don’t get enough sleep – a common symptom of fatigue. This alone can affect your work performance, increase stress levels, cause hormonal imbalance and impair brain function.
In this piece, we will look at what causes fatigue and its symptoms. We will also give you a few tips on dealing with the various forms of fatigue.
What is fatigue
I am ever fatigued, I am a Professional Tired Person, I always find myself cutting corners trying to ditch activities that require time and energy; these are common phrases you’ve probably heard among friends and colleagues trying to describe their weariness. But what is fatigue?
Fatigue can be defined as feeling tired, sleepy, or weary due to lack of sleep, prolonged mental or physical work (burnout), stress, and anxiety – and recently post Covid-19 fatigue syndrome.
Burnout is brought about by extended periods of frustration or work stress. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines burnout as a syndrome resulting from unmanaged workplace stress. If you have ever had an overwhelming sensation that your career is out of your control, then you could be experiencing a common feature of burnout.
Fatigue is different from burnout in that with fatigue, you can push through a hard to meet deadline, and before long, overcome the challenge and recover from the exhausting task. With burnout, you’ll push on for a lot longer and feel more than just tired or fatigued without a sense of relief that you’re getting a breakthrough soon.
Fatigue can be classified into 3 main categories:
- Secondary - Caused by an underlying medical condition
- Physiological - Caused by an imbalance in your daily routine of sleep or exercise. It is relieved with rest
- Chronic - Fatigue that lasts longer than 1 month and is not easily relieved by rest.
Is fatigue a workplace issue?
Did you know that fatigue should be considered as a form of impairment, especially at the workplace? When you’re fatigued, you may be incapacitated to perform certain tasks, and the risks involved can become a safety concern.
Several factors encourage fatigue at our workplaces. Some of these may include:
- Unplanned patterns in shift rotations
- Poor lighting, ventilation and temperature of the workplace environment
- Poor schedule of tasks, and
- Poor Workload balance
According to a Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety report on fatigue, workplace accidents are prone to occur when workers only sleep for 5 hours per day. The report notes that fatigue affects people differently at work but generally increases their hazard exposure through the following:
- Reduction in workers’ physical and mental functioning
- Impaired judgment due to a lack of concentration
- Lack of motivation
- Slow response time
- Risky actions
Causes and symptoms of fatigue
Now that you’ve figured out what fatigue is, it’s also important to know its causes, signs and symptoms. This can be crucial for early diagnosis, which is key to dealing with fatigue at its onset.
There are many causes of fatigue. While secondary and chronic fatigue exhibit common causes, with the only difference being the fatigue’s duration, physiologic fatigue causes are unique.
Physiologic fatigue is caused by:
- Mental strain
- Inadequate rest
- Diminished motivation
This type of fatigue is common among older adults and adolescents.
Chronic and secondary fatigue is caused by the following underlying medical factors;
- Cardiopulmonary issues such as atypical angina, peripheral vascular disease, congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Sleep apnea, vasomotor or allergic rhinitis and gastroesophageal reflux diseases
- Endocrine issues such as hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus, hypercalcemia, kidney failure or pituitary insufficiency.
- TB, Hepatitis, HIV, cytomegalovirus or other infectious diseases.
How can you tell you’re actually getting fatigued? Here are the common symptoms to watch out for.
- Loss of appetite, and
- Digestive disorders
How can you dealing with fatigue
Would you like to know how to deal with your fatigue to improve your performance? You’ll first need to understand what type of fatigue you’re dealing with, and for that, you’ll require a diagnosis.
If your fatigue symptoms get too severe and prolonged, we recommend visiting your physician.
Your physician will evaluate your fatigue by first identifying the common causes. They will also review the dosage of your prescriptions or OTC drugs. The same applies if you are recovering from minor surgery since it can cause fatigue too.
To efficiently advise you on fatigue management, your physician will try and differentiate whether your condition is fatigue or depression – although the two can co-exist.
A physical diagnosis can also determine what’s causing your secondary fatigue. These findings will include:
- Cardiac murmurs
- Neurologic abnormalities
- Poor muscle tone
Tips for managing secondary fatigue
It might be a lot easier to deal with secondary fatigue than you might think. Once the cause of your fatigue is determined, your physician might recommend any of the following remedies:
- Replacing medications causing fatigue
- Maintaining hemoglobin levels at 10g/dl
- Iron supplements for menstruating women
- Regular exercises, especially aerobic activity, yoga and group therapy
- Use of stimulants to help return you to your pre-disease condition.
Tips for physiological fatigue
Physiological fatigue can be best dealt with if patients:
- Get enough sleep and practice good sleep hygiene (regular rising time, increase afternoon activity level, increased exposure to daytime light and avoiding caffeine)
- Exercise to improve physical fitness and increase energy levels
Tips for chronic fatigue
Do you believe that your fatigue is related to modifiable factors such as stress, workload or over-commitment? If the answer is yes, then I’ve got some good news for you. Studies show that you’re more likely to recover than people whose chronic fatigue results from external factors such as a viral infection.
Chronic fatigue can be combated with:
- Regular and structured exercises, which should include 4 weeks of aerobics, flexibility and strength training.
- Pharmacology therapy, which might include the use of stimulants to remedy chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Cognitive therapy to help improve your sleep quality and better deal with work stresses. This can also help you deal with fatigue caused by an underlying medical condition.
Feeling fatigued has become so common that most of us choose to live with it without really comprehending its impact on our social and work life. Fatigue can disrupt your moods and lower your performance at work. Besides, it is even more critical to pay attention to fatigue because it could indicate an underlying medical condition.
Many remedies have been fronted to deal with fatigue; they range from getting enough sleep, exercising, cutting down on certain medications and boosting your alertness with stimulants. However, these can only be effective if you seek early diagnosis and start implementing the solutions immediately.