7 Common Causes of Chronic Tiredness

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

Pronounced tiredness and fatigue can be caused by any one or combination of various factors. Here are 7 common causes of chronic tiredness.

1. Acute Medical Conditions such as Infection

The response to acute medical conditions can divert the body’s resources to focus on healing, sapping energy from other internal functions, and causing a sensation of pronounced fatigue or chronic tiredness. Infections are the most common acute medical conditions and can be caused by bacterial, viral, or other parasitic organisms. Even if the acute phase is over, subclinical infection can co-exist with the body for decades, secreting toxins. As a person ages, such toxins can cause extreme fatigue that is seldom investigated.

2. Chronic Diseases such as Diabetes or Heart Disease

Diabetes can cause chronic tirednessLong term chronic conditions can take a toll on the body, lowering the threshold of exhaustion over time. Some specific chronic diseases have a direct effect on energy expenditure or availability, such as diabetes affecting blood sugar, or heart diseases which can affect the transportation of blood to muscles and other organs. Compromised oxygen delivery is the result, followed by loss of vitality.

3. Hormonal Imbalances such as Hypothyroidism

Hormones are the chemical messengers of the body through which different organs and organ systems communicate with each other. Proper balance of hormones is a key factor to the proper operation of the body’s internal functions. Imbalances in hormones affect proper function of the body and can lead to compromised energy availability. In particular, low amounts of key thyroid hormones in hypothyroidism mean that the metabolism slows, which can cause fatigue.

4. Psychological Conditions such as Depression

Mental health problems can have a psychosomatic effect, resulting in physiologically feeling various symptoms in the body. Notably, there is a strong correlation between severe depression and fatigue. Depression can also disrupt sleep, further decreasing available energy and contributing to fatigue.

5. Mineral or Vitamin Deficiency such as Anemia from Menstrual Bleeding

Anemia and Chronic TirednessOur bodies rely on a constant supply of vitamins and minerals to use as building blocks and catalysts for essential functions. A drop in supply slows or stops some of these processes. For example, a lack of iron can cause anemia, where insufficient amounts of hemoglobin is produced for red blood cells. Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with many neuromuscular diseases. This compromises the ability of the body to transport oxygen to the different parts of the body, again causing fatigue. This is especially a risk for women with heavy menstrual bleeding as blood and iron is lost on a regular basis, needing significant replenishment quite often.

6. Medication and Drug Side Effects and Interactions

The medical establishment today is fond of prescribing many medications to control every little symptom that inconveniences us. Many of these medications can have the side effect of tiredness or fatigue. Notably, statins and antihistamines are two very common medications taken by large portions of the population. Statins are drugs used to treat high cholesterol, but can interfere with muscle growth and cellular energy production, causing fatigue. Some antihistamines such as chlorpheniramine and promethazine act not only against histamine receptors but also acetylcholine receptors. This interference causes imbalance in acetylcholine, which often results in fatigue and tiredness.

7. Lifestyle Factors

The most common cause of fatigue in modern society is lifestyle factors. The on-the-go culture of convenience has promoted behaviors our body was never designed for. Overwork, lack of sleep, and bad dietary choices all put stress on the body, sapping energy and resources. Many people may not even be aware of how much their body is compromised from these lifestyle factors because of the prevalence and ubiquity of caffeine and other stimulants to artificially increase energy output.

A Common Theme with Chronic Tiredness

Stress causes chronic tirednessThe common factor among all these common causes is stress. The adrenal glands are the stress control center the body employs to deal stress, but when any one or especially a combination of these factors assaults the body for too long, the body’s stress response mechanisms can be overworked to the point where they are compromised. The adrenal glands can start to break down resulting in a condition known as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. If you have chronic tiredness, you may be at risk for, or even already have Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome.

Stress causes chronic tiredness

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Hello Dr. Lam-
Reading your website has brought a lot of things together for me. The triad described struck a note with me- beginning stages adrenal fatigue.
Thank you so much for your efforts in helping people like me.
I look forward to your reply.