Fatigue information prescription

Our online Information prescription for health professionals will help you to cover all areas that can affect a fatigued patient. This tool allows you to tailor information for each patient, and provides the patient with actionable items and a record of the consultation.

Select/unselect the information to include, and then print or save as a PDF.


Personal details

Information about fatigue

The following information was selected by your health professional to help you manage your fatigue. More information is available at nps.org.au/fatigue

What is fatigue?+

Fatigue describes a feeling of constant tiredness that doesn't get better with rest. It is a symptom, not a condition or disease. Most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life.

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There are many reasons why someone might be feeling fatigued. Although medical conditions like iron deficiency anaemia or underactive thyroid might be the explanation for some people, causes are more often related to lifestyle, social and psychological factors. In some cases the cause of fatigue cannot be identified.

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To reduce your fatigue, you first need to understand the underlying reasons for your fatigue. For most people, feelings of fatigue will improve on their own — over time or with some simple and practical lifestyle changes.

There is no specific test to diagnose fatigue, only tests that may help identify a cause. The decision to test, and the type of test to have, will depend on your individual situation.

Causes of fatigue+

Fatigue is a common symptom that can have many causes. While medical conditions can explain fatigue in some people, causes are more often related to lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues.

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Sometimes just a small change in your health or daily routine can be enough to tip the balance in the wrong direction, leaving you feeling fatigued. Causes can include:

  • Inappropriate diet: low energy or poor nutrition can leave your body struggling to perform everyday activities.
  • Exercise: if you're out of shape, any physical exertion can be exhausting. Exercising excessively and not allowing your body to recover can also be a problem.
  • Sleep deprivation: poor quality sleep can leave you feeling physically and mentally fatigued.
  • Drugs and alcohol: these substances can place a strain on your body organs and affect sleep patterns.
  • Overwork: the demands of work can sometimes take over and leave little time or energy for life outside of work.

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Having unreasonable expectations about what can fit into your day can make you feel overwhelmed. If this feeling continues, it can impact on your physical, emotional and mental health, leading to fatigue. Social causes of fatigue include:

  • Stress at work: work is a source of stress for many Australians.
  • Stress at home: moving house and undertaking renovations are common home-related reasons for feeling fatigued.
  • Changes to family: making time to meet the needs of a new child or an ill family member can place extra stress on a person.
  • Problems with money: financial issues are a leading cause of stress for Australians.
  • Study: long hours spent concentrating and learning new information can lead to mental fatigue if not managed correctly.

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Psychological issues are a common cause of physical and mental fatigue for many people, and include:

  • Depression: feeling tired all the time and lacking energy are common physical symptoms of depression.
  • Anxiety: being constantly worried or stressed can cause trouble with sleeping, difficulty concentrating and muscle exhaustion.
  • Grief: an intense experience of sadness can leave a person feeling physically, emotionally and socially fatigued.

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While illness can cause fatigue, undiagnosed serious diseases are not a common explanation.

  • Anaemia: blood loss, poor diet and certain medical conditions can affect the amount of iron or vitamin B12 in the body, leading to fatigue.
  • Sleep apnoea: a serious disorder that affects air flow during sleep and leaves a person feeling sleep deprived.
  • Thyroid dysfunction: an underactive thyroid slows the body's metabolism and can cause reduced energy, feelings of depression, weight gain and muscle aches.
  • Medicines: some people may experience fatigue as a side effect of certain medicines (both prescription and non-prescription).

Ways to help you manage fatigue+

There are many practical steps that can be taken to help reduce and manage fatigue. The actions listed below might be useful for your situation.

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Current Australian guidelines recommend eating a wide variety of nutritious foods from the following five food groups every day:

  • vegetables and legumes/beans
  • fruit
  • grains, mostly wholegrain and/or high-fibre cereals
  • lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds
  • milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat.

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Alcohol might make you feel relaxed, but it doesn't encourage refreshing sleep. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit your intake and try not to drink too close to bedtime.

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Exercising regularly can help to improve your energy levels and reduce feelings of physical and mental fatigue.

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While it can be tempting to use caffeine as a pick me up, too much caffeine can interrupt your sleep patterns and worsen your fatigue. Try to cut down slowly to avoid withdrawal headaches.

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It's not just quantity (the number of hours) that counts when it comes to sleep. How well you sleep (the quality of your sleep) is also important. Simple measures that can help you sleep include:

  • avoid naps during the day. If you do nap, keep it to 20 minutes and before 3pm
  • avoid heavy meals, exercise or working on the computer late in the evening
  • make sure your bedroom is not too hot or cold.

Take the sleep quiz  to assess the quality of your sleep.

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Try taking regular time out for yourself and learning different ways to relax and unwind (eg, yoga, tai chi or meditation). It might also be helpful to work with someone who can help you identify the major stress factors in your life and develop a management plan. Speak with your doctor about finding a psychologist or counsellor who can help you.

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Feelings of depression can be quite different from one person to the next. However, people with depression commonly describe a loss of interest and enjoyment in life, and have feelings of sadness or being down for prolonged periods of time.

Find out more about taking care of yourself if you have depression.

Notes from your health professional


NPS MedicineWise does not endorse any part of this content including its appropriateness to the patient, nor does it endorse the identity or qualifications of the health professional.

This information prescription was generated on 10 Dec 2016