When is Being "Too Tired" a Problem?
Let's face it, we aren't what we used to be as we get on up there. Aging has many wonderful aspects, but one of the many problems is that we do not have the stamina and energy we did when younger. That is a normal part of aging and just something that comes with the territory. However, being excessively tired or listless can be termed fatigue.
As mentioned, one common cause of less apparent energy is aging itself. But there are other common causes of this feeling. The most common is lack of proper rest. If you do not get seven to eight hours of sleep, expect to be tired and fatigued. Another is doing too much; for example, working or playing hard without resting properly. It is normal to get worn out in this way and become fatigued. Paradoxically, if one does too little -- the couch potato syndrome -- this also leads to feeling fatigued. Too much caffeine during the day results in loss of sleep at night and fatigue during the day. Too much alcohol leaves one with a dreariness the following day and a form of fatigue. Finally, there are a host of medications that we may be taking that have as a side effect, drowsiness, which is like fatigue. The medicines that cause fatigue are antihistamines found in many cold/flu treatments, prescription pain medicines, beta-blockers for heart disease, sleeping pills, and some anti-depressants.
Treatment of Normal Fatigue
If one has fatigue from any of the things that cause it listed above, you don't have to be a doctor to understand that if you eliminate the cause, then this should remedy the problem. In other words, if you are not getting enough sleep, then get enough by trying to be regular in time of retiring and getting up. If you are doing too much to too little then do the opposite. For example, moderate exercise on a regular basis is a very good treatment for couch potato syndrome. If medicines are the problem, talk to your physician about substitutions with a medicine that does not cause fatigue in you. Today there are often many good medicines that can be used for treatment of a medical problem that vary in their degree of side effects, especially drowsiness.
Some fatigue that persists for over two to four weeks and is new to you, can be associated with a medical problem. Fatigue is a very vague and non-specific symptom that accompanies many diseases. It is , for example, expected in cancer treatment and after major surgery. However, it also could be a sign of some medical problems of which you may not be aware. The list is very long, and fatigue does not mean that you have a disease. Some medical problems known to lead to fatigue are: anemia, cancer, chronic heart and kidney disease, obesity, sleep apnea, diabetes and hypothyroidism, to name only a few. If the symptoms of being too tired to do what you used to do persist, and you have ruled out the common causes for normal fatigue, then see your physician to be sure you don't have one of the many diseases that are associated with chronic fatigue. Most of the diseases have a medical treatment that can improve one's lack of energy.
Another very common cause of chronic fatigue is psychological in origin. The most common and potentially severe is depression. This is treatable, but needs to be diagnosed by a professional. It is nothing to fool around with or just endure; there are many medicines that are effective to treat depression. Anxiety will lead to chronic fatigue and needs evaluation and a method of treatment. Grief and stress tend to be time dependent, meaning that time makes them better, but both lead to chronic fatigue and can be combated by counseling.
Acute Fatigue as Urgent/Emergent
The new onset with sudden and profound change in ability to do what one used to do can be an urgent or emergent condition. If the fatigue is associated with chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heart rate, or sense of imminent passing out, these are urgent conditions that warrant immediate medical attention. These could be symptoms of a serious heart condition or major vascular insufficiency. Likewise, if this type of fatigue is associated with suicidal or homicidal thoughts, then immediate medical attention is required.
The bottom line is that being tired or fatigued is expected more as we age than when we were young. There re things we can do to restore some of that old vim and vigor, but there are some conditions that might cause this that require our seeking medical help. Be alert if you are fatigued!
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For more information consult MUSC Med-U-Nurse or your physician.