HEALTH TALK: Common causes of fatigue

Dr. Victor Emanuel MD

You may have trouble shaking that sluggish feeling, so let’s look at some of the most common energy zappers and how to fight them.

FATIGUE CAUSE NO. 1: Not Enough Sleep

It may seem obvious but you could be getting too little sleep. That can negatively affect your concentration and health. Adults should get seven to eight hours every night.

Fix: Make sleep a priority and keep a regular schedule. Ban laptops, cell phones and PDAs from your bedroom. Still having trouble? Seek a doctor’s help. You may have a sleep disorder.

FATIGUE CAUSE NO. 2: Sleep Apnea

Some people think they’re sleeping enough, but sleep apnea gets in the way. It briefly stops your breathing throughout the night. Each interruption wakes you for a moment, but you may not be aware of it. The result: you’re sleep-deprived despite spending eight hours in bed.

Fix: Lose weight if you’re overweight, quit smoking, and sleep with a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device to help keep airway passages open at night.

FATIGUE CAUSE NO.3: Not Enough Fuel

Eating too little causes fatigue, but eating the wrong foods can be a problem too. Eating a balanced diet helps keeps your blood sugar in a normal range and prevent that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

Fix: Always eat breakfast and try to include protein and complex carbohydrates in every meal. For example, eat eggs with whole-grain toast. Also eat meals and snacks throughout the day for sustained energy.


Anemia is a leading cause of fatigue in women. Menstrual blood loss can cause an iron deficiency, putting women at risk. Red blood cells are needed because they carry oxygen to your tissues and organs.

Fix: For anemia caused by an iron deficiency, taking iron supplements and eating iron-rich foods, such as lean meats, liver, shellfish, beans, enriched cereal, and green leafy vegetables, can help.

FATIGUE CAUSE NO. 5: Depression

You may think of depression as an emotional disorder, but it contributes to many physical symptoms as well. Please take note of this; it’s quite important. Fatigue, headaches, and loss of appetite are among the most common symptoms. It you feel tired and “down” for more than a couple of weeks, see the doctor.

Fix: Depression responds well to psychotherapy and/or medication.

FATIGUE CAUSE NO. 6: Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid Gland)

The thyroid is a small gland at the base of your neck. It controls your metabolism, the speed at which your body converts fuel into energy. When the gland is under-active and the metabolism functions too slowly, you may feel sluggish and put on weight.

Fix: If a blood test confirms your thyroid hormones are low, synthetic hormones can bring you up to speed.


Caffeine can improve alertness and concentration in moderate doses. But too much can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and jittery feelings. And research indicates too much actually causes fatigue in some people.

Fix: Gradually cut back on coffee, tea, chocolate, soft drinks, and any medications that contain caffeine. Stopping suddenly can cause caffeine withdrawal and more fatigue.


If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), you’re probably familiar with the burning pain and sense of urgency. But the infection does not always announce itself with such obvious symptoms. In some cases, fatigue may be the only sign. A urine test can quickly confirm a UTI.

Fix: Antibiotics are the cure for UTIs, and the fatigue will usually vanish within a week.

FATIGUE CAUSE NO. 9 : Diabetes

In people with diabetes, abnormally high levels of sugar remain in the bloodstream instead of entering the body’s cells, where it would be converted into energy. The result is a body that runs out of steam despite having enough to eat. If you have persistent, unexplained fatigue, ask the doc about being tested for diabetes.

Fix: Treatment for diabetes may include lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, insulin therapy and medications to help the body process sugar.

FATIGUE CAUSE NO. 10: Dehydration

Your fatigue can be a sign of dehydration. Whether you’re working out or working a desk job, your body needs water to work well and keep cool. If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.

Fix: Drink water throughout the day so your urine is light colored. Have at least two cups of water an hour or more before a planned activity. Then, sip throughout your workout and afterward drink another two cups.

FATIGUE CAUSE NO. 11: Heart Disease

When fatigue strikes during every-day activities, such as cleaning the house or weeding the yard, it can be a sign that your heart is no longer up to the job. If you find it’s becoming increasingly difficult to finish tasks that were once easy, talk to the doc about possible heart disease.

Fix: Lifestyle changes, medication, and therapeutic procedures can get heart disease under control and restore your energy.

FATIGUE CAUSE NO. 12: Shift Work Sleep Disorder

Working nights or rotating shifts can disrupt your internal clock. You may feel tired when you need to be awake. And you may have trouble sleeping during the day.

Fix: Limit you exposure to daylight when you need to rest. Make your room dark, quiet, and cool. If you still have sleep issues, talk with the doc. Supplements and medications may help.

FATIGUE CAUSE NO. 13: Food Allergies

Some doctors believe hidden food allergies can make you sleepy. If your fatigue intensifies after meals, you could have mild intolerance to something you’re eating – not enough to cause itching or hives (blotches), just enough to make you tired.

Fix: Try eliminating foods one at a time to see if your fatigue improves. You can also ask doc about a food allergy test.

FATIGUE CAUSE NO. 14: CFS and Fibromyalgia

If your fatigue lasts more than six months and is so severe that you can’t manage your daily activities, chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia are a possibility. Both can have various symptoms, but persistent, unexplained exhaustion is a main one.

Fix: While there’s no quick fix for CFS or fibromyalgia, patients often benefit from changing their daily schedule, learning better sleep habits, and starting a gentle exercising program.

See you next week.

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  1. HR
    June 20, 2012

    I always read these articles and find them very informative. Thanks doc.

  2. Chrissy
    June 20, 2012

    good article Doc

  3. Toosense
    June 20, 2012

    very informative. can’t wait for next week.

  4. virgo
    June 20, 2012


  5. Me
    June 20, 2012

    Enjoyed the article… fond reader of your aticles.

  6. Woodford Hill Girl
    June 20, 2012

    Thanks once again Doc,you are “right on the money”!!

  7. lisad
    June 20, 2012

    Thanks for the enlightenment doctor

  8. Anonymous
    June 20, 2012

    i always enjoy reading. thanks for the info doc

  9. hmmmm
    June 20, 2012

    you forget to mention pregnancy lol

    June 20, 2012


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