Tiredness or Fatigue, What’s the Difference?

Dec-fatigue-imageWe all know what it is to feel tired. Maybe it’s from a long day at work, or staying out late to catch up with an old friend, or your three year old who decided 5:00am was a good time to wake you. Whatever the reason, we’ve all suffered through a day or two while sleep deprived.

Fortunately, tiredness can typically be cured with a good night’s sleep; and a little coffee will help you get through the day. Lasting fatigue, however, is a different issue and should not be passed off as simply being tired.


What is Fatigue?

While tiredness is generally short term and easily relieved, true fatigue is long lasting and can ultimately interfere with one’s ability to lead a normal life. People suffering from fatigue often describe feelings of lethargy and exhaustion, often accompanied by depression and sometimes physical ailments.

In most cases, fatigue is a symptom of a larger underlying issue. Mild cases often accompany an illness, such as a flu or cold, and generally go away when the illness does.

Stress can also lead to temporary fatigue. A heavy workload, financial difficulties, and other common stresses are often cause fatigue. The fatigue tends to compound the feelings of stress, which leads to more fatigue, and on and on. But, as with illness, alleviating the stress will also alleviate the fatigue.


Other Conditions that Can Cause Fatigue

When eliminating stress factors and catching up on sleep don’t help, it’s time to investigate other possibilities. Fatigue that lasts more than two weeks, particularly when accompanied by other symptoms, such as unexplained changes in weight or shortness of breath, may be a sign of something more serious and should be treated by a doctor. Some of the most common causes of fatigue include:

  • Coronary artery disease. When simple daily activities wear you out, it may be that your heart isn’t performing at its best.
  • Diabetes. This disease impacts your body’s ability to properly process sugars and preventing the conversion of food into energy.
  • Thyroid problems. This is the gland that controls metabolism, and therefore your energy levels. Fatigue is often the result of an under-active thyroid.
  • Anxiety and depression. Depression is a leading cause of missed work, and can even lead to a disability diagnosis. It’s much more than an emotional slump, and often contributes to physical symptoms, including fatigue.
  • Not enough sleep. Consistent sleep deprivation can lead to all sorts of problems, including lack of concentration, weight loss, memory failures, and fatigue.
  • Sleep apnea. Breathing pauses or interruptions while sleeping prevents those who suffer with sleep apnea from getting the deep sleep necessary to feel rested.
  • Poor diet. An imbalanced diet may result in too much or too little blood sugar, either of which can ultimately contribute to feelings of fatigue.



Many underlying causes of fatigue are easily treated with supplements, dietary changes, exercise programs, or sending the three year old to live with grandma for a few weeks. But fatigue caused by more serious underlying medical issues will often need to be managed with prescription medications and physician assistance. These include:


Unlike occasional tiredness, fatigue interferes with a person’s quality of life, their mental health, and their ability to handle manage daily activities. It’s even recognized as a significant reason for early retirement. If feelings of tiredness persist for a couple of weeks, seek medical assistance. The solution may be simpler than you think.