Fatigue – 10 medical reasons for feeling tired

Treatments for Fatigue

Any serious illness, especially painful ones, can make you tired. But some quite minor illnesses can also leave you feeling washed out. Here are 10 health conditions that are known to cause fatigue.

1. Coeliac disease

This is a type of food intolerance, where your body reacts badly when you eat gluten – a substance found in bread, cakes and cereals. One in 100 people in the UK are affected, but research suggests that up to 90% of them don’t know they have the condition, according to patient group Coeliac UK. Other symptoms of coeliac disease, apart from tiredness, are diarrhoea, anaemia and weight loss. Your GP can check if you have coeliac disease through a blood test.

Read more about coeliac disease.

2. Anaemia

One of the most common medical reasons for feeling constantly run down is iron deficiency anaemia. It affects around one in 20 men and post-menopausal women, but may be even more common in women who are still having periods.

Typically, you’ll feel you can’t be bothered to do anything, your muscles will feel heavy and you’ll get tired very quickly. Women with heavy periods and pregnant women are especially prone to anaemia.

Read more about iron deficiency anaemia.

3. Chronic fatigue syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome (also called myalgic encephalomyelitis or ME) is a severe and disabling tiredness that goes on for at least six months. There are usually other symptoms, such as a sore throat, muscle or joint pain and headache.

Read more about chronic fatigue syndrome.

4. Sleep apnoea

Sleep apnoea is a condition where your throat narrows or closes during sleep and repeatedly interrupts your breathing. This results in bad snoring and a drop in your blood’s oxygen levels. The difficulty in breathing means that you wake up often in the night, and feel exhausted the next day.

It’s most common in overweight, middle-aged men. Drinking alcohol and smoking makes it worse.

Read more about sleep apnoea.

5. Underactive thyroid

An underactive thyroid gland means that you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired. You’re also likely to put on weight and have aching muscles. It’s most common in women, and it happens more often as you get older.

Your GP can diagnose an underactive thyroid by taking a blood test.

Read more about having an underactive thyroid.

6. Diabetes

One of the main symptoms of diabetes, a long-term condition caused by too much sugar in the blood, is feeling very tired. The other key symptoms are feeling very thirsty, going to the toilet a lot and weight loss. Your GP can diagnose diabetes with a blood test.

Read more about diabetes and find out how to make smart sugar swaps.

Find your local diabetes support services.

7. Glandular fever

Glandular fever is a common viral infection that causes fatigue, along with fever, sore throat and swollen glands. Most cases happen in teenagers and young adults. Symptoms usually clear up within four to six weeks, but the fatigue can linger for several more months.

Read more about glandular fever.

8. Depression

As well as making you feel very sad, depression can also make you feel drained of energy. It can stop you falling asleep or cause you to wake up early in the morning, which makes you feel more tired during the day.

Read more about depression.

Find your local depression support services and your local depression self-help groups.

9. Restless legs

This is when you get uncomfortable sensations in your legs, which keep you awake at night. You might have an overwhelming urge to keep moving your legs, a deep ache in your legs, or your legs might jerk spontaneously through the night. Whatever your symptoms, your sleep will be disrupted and of poor quality, so you’ll feel very tired throughout the day.

Read more about restless legs.

10. Anxiety

Feeling anxious is sometimes perfectly normal. However, some people have constant, uncontrollable feelings of anxiety, which are so strong they affect their daily life. Doctors call this generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). It affects around around one in 20 people in the UK. As well as feeling worried and irritable, people with GAD often feel tired.

Read more about anxiety.

Find your local anxiety support services.



This video may be of interest

Sleep Apnea – might you have sleep apnea? What are your treatment options?

Sleep Apnea is a common but seemingly ignored condition in the western world.  Lagging it seemsstar wars not far behind Diabetes Type 2 as a medical condition and often with a similar profile of sufferers.  In fact between 3-7% of middle aged men and around 2.5% of women of that age have sleep apnea.

So what actually is sleep apnea?

Simply put it is abnormal breathing during sleep.  With obstructive sleep apnea (the most common kind) there is physical obstacle impeding breathing during sleep.  In many cases this is due to obesity.  The net result is, of course, a bad night’s sleep and the person with sleep apnea is unable to get the rest she or he needs.

The symptoms can include

a)      Snoring.

b)      Fatigue due to poor sleep.  For more information on fatigue please have a look at our previous blog http://patienttalk.org/?p=239.

c)       Poor concentration during the day due to tiredness and possible cognitive dysfunction.

d)      Altered emotional states are common, in particular, moodiness.

e)      From long term sleep apnea depression seems to be a likely outcome.

If any of these apply to you it is important that you discuss these symptoms with a healthcare professional.

A problem is that the person with undiagnosed sleep apnea does not realise that they have sleep apnea because they are asleep when the apneas take place.

But the good news is that there are treatments.  These include:-

  • Medications which encourage improved respiration such as acetazolamide.
  • For people with mild to moderate sleep apnea dentists can produce a mouthpiece which opens the bite slightly thus increasing the airflow.  This is called a mandibular advancement splint.
  • For more severe sleep apnea a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device is used.  This pumps air into the patient’s nose and mouth increasing air to the lungs and promoting easier sleep.
  • In some rare cases surgery is used when other strategies to cure sleep apnea have failed.

As part of this blog we would be very interested to hear your views and experiences of sleep apnea.  In particular it would be great if you could consider the following questions:-

1)      Have you ever been diagnosed with sleep apnea?

2)      What were the symptoms of your sleep apnea?

3)      What tests were you given to make the diagnosis?

4)      What treatments for sleep apnea were you given?  How successful were these treatments?

If you could use the comments box below to contribute any of your thoughts that would be great.

You might be interested to know that in the UK the condition is spelt sleep apnoea?  Divided by language as always.