Being extremely tired and so lacking in energy that you can’t function on a daily basis are the hallmarks of the condition known as fatigue. Quite often, fatigue is viewed as a symptom that is related to other medical conditions. These can include mental health issues such as depression and seasonal affective disorder. Other times, physical health problems like anemia, heart disease, sleep apnea and more can cause fatigue. Fatigue is also related to some medical treatments, such as various therapies for cancer.
When fatigue is a symptom to a medical condition, it is often seen as acute fatigue, meaning it's short-lasting. But, fatigue can be a long-lasting problem as well. Some people with fatigue have a different and unique medical condition that is known as chronic fatigue syndrome.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
When fatigue is diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome, it often lasts for six months or longer and is accompanied by other problems as well. These can include muscle pain, headaches, a sore throat and problems with memory and concentration. Doctors are unsure exactly what causes chronic fatigue, but it may be related to other illnesses, most notably depression. Some estimates indicate that about 500,000 people in the United States have chronic fatigue syndrome. The group where it's seen the most is in women ages 25 to 45, but it can affect virtually anyone.
Often, fatigue is treated by examining and diagnosing the other associated problems, and then dealing with those first. In the case of chronic fatigue syndrome, this might mean tackling problems related to sleep, muscle pain and depression, for instance, to get at the heart of the problem. Many with chronic fatigue syndrome and other complications find that they also benefit from therapy, which can include support groups, professional counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy.
SOURCES: U.S. National Cancer Institute; American College of Physicians; American Cancer Society; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention