…Fatigue is a disabling and frustrating symptom that can have many varied and unforeseen causes, from medical conditions such as coeliac disease, vitamin deficiencies, heart problems, thyroid disease and other hormone related problems to rarer conditions such as some cancers and nerve and muscular disorders. It is also important to be mindful that many lifestyle and behavioural issues including stress, sleep dysfunction, alcohol excess, poor diet, physical deconditioning and chronic pain and depression can contribute to, worsen or directly cause symptoms of fatigue. Therefore it should not be surprising that the cause of chronic fatigue is frequently complex and multi factorial and addressing one single issue may not restore health and well being because other contributory factors may not have been identified and rectified.
If the cause of chronic fatigue remains unexplained after medical investigations and careful review of lifestyle, the symptoms may be due to a condition that is poorly understood called chronic fatigue syndrome.
Investigation and treatment of fatigue therefore requires careful consideration of medical, behavioural and lifestyle factors. Furthermore even with insight into the potential causes, symptoms of fatigue are not straight forward to unravel, and family doctors have very tight time constraints in consultations, making it extremely challenging for them to identify the root causes in such a short time. As a consequence, symptoms of unexplained illness and fatigue are often given the diagnostic label of “tired all the time” by doctors. This is an unhelpful label. It does not enable the fatigue sufferer to identify and understand the cause of their symptoms in order to determine a route to rectify the problem. It is also important to recognise that chronic unexplained symptoms such as fatigue, whatever the cause, can have a deleterious impact on quality of life, relationships and employment.
There is good evidence to show that treating the underlying cause of fatigue can restore health and well-being whether symptoms are due to hormone dysfunction, coeliac disease, chronic fatigue syndrome or any of the other many potential causes.
The type of treatment offered needs to be tailored to your individual circumstances and may require a number of different approaches including targeted medical treatment, lifestyle focus and sometimes cognitive and behavioural approaches.
The personal and economic impact of fatigue and the complexity of overcoming the chronic fatigue legacy should not be underestimated or dismissed either by the sufferer, their family or their health care providers. Fatigue as a symptom should be taken seriously, investigated and treated appropriately to enable a sustained recovery and restoration of health and quality of life.