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May 1, 2022

Fatigue: Causes and Forms of It

Causes and Forms of Fatigue

causes and forms of fatigue
photo courtesy of Pixabay

Fatigue in nearly ubiquitous these days. People are tired and they are tired for many reasons. Fatigue has many causes, comes in different forms, has many presentations, and is influenced by our lifestyle. This article will discuss the causes and forms of fatigue. One of the challenges for physicians is that patients many times have a hard time describing what they are feeling. Fatigue can be described as exhaustion, shortness of breath, lack of energy, burn out, lack of motivation, not feeling well, and more. In the end, fatigue is a nonspecific term and is a symptom of many conditions and not a disease in and of itself.

Fatigue has many forms and these include:

  • Physical fatigue
  • Mental fatigue
  • Brain fatigue
  • Emotional fatigue
  • Fatigue from poor diet

Lifestyle Factors and Fatigue

Fatigue is also influenced by our lifestyle as well. Important lifestyle factors that contribute to fatigue include:

  • Business and leisure travel especially by air
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Excess physical activity (work or recreational)
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Medications (pain meds, antihistamines, some blood pressure and heart medications, antidepressants and anti anxiety medications, etc.
  • Lack of sleep or interrupted sleep
  • Poor dietary habits.

If you suffer from fatigue, do any of these lifestyle factors apply to you? If you are a mediation that potentially causes fatigue discuss with your physician about switching to an alternative. Many people are simply out of shape and overweight. Improving dietary habits and increasing physical activity can lessen fatigue. Somewhat paradoxically, the more you do, the more you can do.

Sleep is critical to good health and combating fatigue. Review our articles on sleep here and here.

Causes of Fatigue

Not only are there different forms of fatigue, there are many causes of fatigue which primarily cause physical or physiological fatigue. Here are some of the more common causes of fatigue.

  • Anemia
  • Anxiety
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Breathing issues like COPD/emphysema
  • Cancer
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Chronic infection or inflammation
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Fatigue following a viral illness
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Grief
  • Heart disease
  • Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Medications (see lifestyle factors)
  • Muliple sclerosis
  • Obesity
  • Persistent pain
  • Physical deconditioning
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stress
  • Traumatic brain injury

A physical examination and blood work will help narrow this list down by ruling out some of these causes. Do not ignore fatigue since it can be a symptom of a serious disease or illness.

Now let’s go back to the different forms of fatigue as they encompass many of the causes of fatigue.

Physical Fatigue

Physical fatigue is the result of the body being overworked or due to some underlying illness keeping in mind that illnesses stress or tax the body’s many physiologic systems. Nearly all the causes listed above are physical or physiological causes of stress. The objective is to identify the cause and then address or treat it.

Mental Fatigue

Mental fatigue is the result of ongoing mental stress. Mental stress often leads to worry, depression, or anxiety which only makes the mental stress worse. Peoples suffering from mental stress often ruminate over a problem or unpleasant situation. Consider counseling if suffer from mental fatigue to develop strategies to combat it. Learn to say “no” so that you do not have too many balls in the air at the same time. If dealing with a problem, develop a plan to deal with it, then work the plan step by step.

Brain Fatigue

Brain fatigue results from long hours of concentration, focusing, or thinking. This is the fatigue I tend to experience at the end of day in the office. The brain consumes a lot of oxygen and after several hours of concentration not enough oxygen is available for continue use by the brain. Brain fatigue is sometimes accompanied by headaches, dizziness, nausea, and memory loss. I know I have reached brain fatigue when I find myself re-reading something I just read, or asking a patient to repeat themselves because I could not process fully what they just said.

Taking a few minute break. Doing some deep breathing exercises and/or moving the arms and legs can help combat this fatigue and get more blood circulating to the brain. Also, a 15-20 minute nap if the situation permits will  recharge the brain.

Emotional Fatigue

Emotional fatigue overlaps with mental fatigue. Mental fatigue has more to do with being overwhelmed while emotional fatigue has more to do with loss of motivation. Your enthusiasm for something has waned. Emotional fatigue is often the result of an accumulation of stressful situations. Emotional fatigue is characterized by lack of motivation, negativity, ineffectiveness at performing tasks, poor sleep, depression, and concentration difficulty.

Fatigue from Diet

Patients are often surprised how better they feel and how much more energy they have once they clean up their diet and focus on healthy eating. It should be no surprise but it often is. Think of your body as a sports car. If you put cheap fuel in the car it is going to run sluggishly, but if you put in the premium fuel it will run as designed – efficiently and quickly.

We have several articles on diet on this website. Go to the “Nutrition” category in the menu bar to access them. The one thing that all healthy and successful diet or nutrition programs have in common is that they all involve avoiding the unhealthy or bad carbohydrates. These are carbs that cause a spike in blood sugar and consequently a spike in insulin levels. These are high glycemic foods and you want to avoid them as much as possible. Instead, focus on eating low glycemic foods and consuming adequate amounts of fluids.


Fatigue is a common symptom and has many causes and presents in many ways. Seek medical help if you suffer from it to identify the cause of fatigue in your particular case and then address or treat it the underlying cause.  There is nothing better than going through the day with energy to spare.



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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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