Health matters . . . tired all the time?

Young man in pose

Young man in pose - Credit: Jasmin Merdan - Fotolia

Suffolk GP Dr Matt Piccaver gives his views on the symptoms of fatigue

One of the commonest symptoms I see is fatigue. “I’m tired all the time doctor.” My first reaction is to think, “me too”.

Fatigue is a frequent feature of many conditions. From a serious case of ‘life’, to potentially life threatening conditions, feeling fatigued is a common problem. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if we might be ill, or just working hard.

The first questions I ask are about lifestyle. How much sleep are you getting? Do you work shifts, or nights? Is your sleep disturbed? Do you snore or stop breathing in your sleep? The latter could be a feature of obstructive sleep apnoea. This can cause you to stop breathing in the night, and can make you very tired the following day.

Fatigue as a stand alone symptom is not usually all that common. Combine it with other symptoms and the cause may become clearer. An underactive thyroid gland can cause us to feel tired, but we may also gain weight. Other features such as coarse hair or skin changes may occur. Sometimes pregnancy might present with nonspecific symptoms such fatigue.

Fatigue accompanied by other symptoms such as low mood, poor concentration or lack of enjoyment might hint at depression.

Fatigue may be present in many short lived conditions such as the common cold, or tonsillitis. In infections such as flu or glandular fever, fatigue can be considerable, and last some time after recovery from the disease.

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Aside from mild disease, fatigue can be found in many serious, life threatening conditions. Many cancers, heart conditions or serious neurological problems may include fatigue as one of their symptoms. Fatigue and weight loss often worry me, especially if accompanied by other potential markers of serious illness. Long standing diarrhoea, problems swallowing, or physical weakness may hint at a cancer, or other serious problem.

Fatigue alone is usually not too much to worry about, but if unremitting or prolonged fatigue is well worth discussion with your doctor. If you’re concerned, get in touch with your GP. Sometimes reassurance that nothing serious is wrong, and that we’re allowed to feel tired, is all that’s needed.

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