What is fatigue?

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Fatigue: Overview

Fatigue is a feeling of tiredness, exhaustion, or lack of energy. You may feel fatigue because of too much or not enough activity. It can also come from stress, lack of sleep, boredom, and poor diet. Many medical problems, such as viral infections, can cause fatigue. Emotional problems, especially depression, are often the cause of fatigue.

Fatigue is most often a symptom of another problem. Treatment for fatigue depends on the cause. For example, if you have fatigue because you have a certain health problem, treating this problem also treats your fatigue. If depression or anxiety is the cause, treatment may help.


Fatigue is a feeling of tiredness or exhaustion or a need to rest because of lack of energy or strength.

Fatigue may result from overwork, poor sleep, worry, boredom, or lack of exercise. It is a symptom that may be caused by illness, medicine, or medical treatment such as chemotherapy. Anxiety or depression can also cause fatigue.

Caring for weakness and fatigue

If you have generalized weakness and fatigue along with other symptoms, look closely at those symptoms. Home treatment for your other symptoms usually will improve your weakness and fatigue. Mild generalized weakness and fatigue that occur with a viral illness usually improve with home treatment. Here are some things you can try.

  • If you can, stay home when you are sick.

    Try to stay away from others and get some extra sleep.

  • Go slowly.

    Return to your usual activities slowly to avoid making the fatigue last longer.

  • Stay hydrated.

    Be sure to drink extra fluids to avoid dehydration.

  • Listen to your body.

    Switch between rest and exercise. Gradually increasing your exercise may help decrease your fatigue.

  • Limit medicines that might add to fatigue.

    Medicines like cold and allergy medicines often cause fatigue.

  • Improve your diet.

    Eat a balanced diet to increase your energy level. Don't skip meals.

  • Beware of substances that may cause fatigue.

    Reduce your use of alcohol or other drugs, such as caffeine or nicotine.

  • Cut back on screen time.

    Spend that time with friends or try new activities to break the fatigue cycle.

  • Get a good night's sleep.

    This may be the first step toward controlling fatigue.

    • Try to limit sound and light disturbances.
    • Avoid eating just before you go to bed.
    • Avoid using screens before you go to bed. Use your bed only for sleeping.

How can you deal with being tired from cancer treatment?

  • Slowly increase your activity to have more energy. Try walking as your energy allows.
  • Take breaks during the day to rest.
  • If your doctor prescribes medicines to help with your energy, take them exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Keep a list of all your medicines, and review them with your doctor at your visits.
  • Eat healthy foods. A diet that contains fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may increase your energy level. Limit alcohol, which can cause dehydration and make you feel more tired. Drink plenty of fluids. Do not skip meals, especially breakfast.
  • Do not smoke. It can make you feel more tired. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • If you have trouble getting a good night's sleep, try to:
    • Keep your room dark and quiet. If needed, wear earplugs or use a sound machine to cover noises.
    • Do not eat just before you go to bed.
    • Do not read or watch TV in bed.
  • Plan activities for the time of day when you have the most energy. This way you can plan ahead to do what you want to do.

Fatigue: When to call

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have new symptoms such as fever or a rash.
  • Your fatigue gets worse.
  • You have been feeling down, depressed, or hopeless. Or you may have lost interest in things that you usually enjoy.
  • You are not getting better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.