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Fatigue Should Be Treated As Symptom, Not Disease State

Finding the source of the symptom is important in treatment

DAYTON, Ohio (March 11, 2019) – Life can be hectic as multiple life stressors compete for our energy and time, so it’s no wonder that the majority of Americans feel tired throughout the day.

But feeling tired from a busy day is a lot different than feeling fatigued. Fatigue is when the body is unable to function like it normally does, or the brain feels stretched beyond its limits.

“Sleepiness is a normal part of our life because we are only built to have so much in our personal battery – whether it’s in our bodies or minds – to get things done,” said Aaron Block, MD, a primary care physician with Franklin Family Practice. “However, fatigue is when a person doesn’t have enough energy to do the things they normally do throughout the day.” 

Fatigue has both short-term and long-term causes. Short-term fatigue may be caused by an illness such as the flu or when a person sacrifices proper sleep to study for a test. It may also be caused by a personal loss. A person who has experienced the death of a loved one may lack the normal energy they need to get through the day, said Dr. Block, who practices with Premier Physician Network.

Fatigue becomes a long-term issue when a person experiences it for more than six weeks. At this point, the causes of fatigue may extend to one of many areas of a person’s body such as their cardiovascular system or lungs. They may have anemia or an infection. It could be linked to a lifestyle choice such as the use of tobacco, alcohol or drugs. Or it may even be caused by an autoimmune disorder, in which the body’s cells attack another organ.

“When we are investigating the cause of someone’s fatigue, one category that we look closely into is autoimmune disease,” Dr. Block said. “This is when some of the cells in our body go rogue for reasons we have yet to discover.”

Finding the root cause of fatigue doesn’t always involve serious health concerns. Dr. Block has patients evaluate four main areas of their life to eliminate the most common causes for fatigue.

Evaluate your diet – Americans are known for eating diets high in processed foods and low in fruits and vegetables. Eliminate processed foods and focus on lean meats and grains for protein as well as fresh fruits and vegetables. Cut out candy bars, soda and alcohol; all can affect your body’s energy.

“Take a look at what you’re putting into your body,” he said. “Processed food is not good fuel for your body. It’s like putting ethanol 85 into a Ferrari – it’s not going to run very well.”

Move your body – Exercise is incredibly important for the body to regenerate itself, Dr. Block said. Exercise helps a person feel more energetic by releasing endorphins and training vital muscles such as the body’s heart. 

Adequate sleep – Consider the quality of sleep you are getting each night, not just the quantity. Eight hours of sleep is only beneficial if it’s not interrupted.

“If you’re waking up every hour to go to the restroom or you’re tossing and turning, oftentimes, it’s a sign that something is not resting in the body,” Dr. Block said. “If you don’t get adequate sleep, your body doesn’t have time to regenerate a lot of its cells.”

Manage your stress – Long work days and stress created by deadlines or other demands can wear on a person emotionally and mentally. Try to identify the main stressors in your life and create a plan to manage them. Often, a proper diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep can help not only with fatigue but the stress that may be causing it. 

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