5 Main Types of Fatigue

There are five main types of fatigue on top of the “I’m not getting enough sleep” kind.

Each has it’s own underlying causes and therefore each needs to be managed differently – this is the excellence that is natural medicine – receiving individualised care for your specific situation.

Adrenal Fatigue

While medical research has found no evidence for “adrenal fatigue” we do see exhaustion as a result of burnout as a real phenomenon. The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and, as their name implies, produce adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) and cortisol. 

The excitatory chemical adrenaline is produced in acute stress situations – it’s chief functions are to raise the blood pressure, increase the heart and breathing rate and prime the muscles for action – which involves the diversion of blood from the skin and digestive system. It’s a great system – designed for short-term use followed by a period of recovery.

Another chemical called cortisol is also made in the adrenal gland. It is normally produced in a cyclical fashion in the body – typically rising early in the morning to help you get out of bed. An early sign of “adrenal fatigue” is difficulty getting up even after a good nights sleep. The adrenals also stimulate increases in blood sugar levels and problems with blood sugar control can be linked to adrenal fatigue.

When a person is under continuous or prolonged excessive stress, these effects are continuous giving rise to burnout – which may also be associated with heart problemsdigestive issuespoor skin, mood problems and so on. Sometimes the mess that people get into is referred to as “burnout” or having a “nervous breakdown”.

If you suspect you have any degree of adrenal fatigue, an appointment is strongly recommended. Your naturopath will work with you to develop a programme to halt and reverse this condition before it deteriorates further.  

Adrenal failure or Addison’s Disease is the most extreme form of adrenal exhaustion. It comes on gradually, usually after a long period of deterioration – from months to years or even decades. This is a medically managed condition and is treated with supplemental cortisone (e.g., prednisone).

Watch an educational video on Adrenal Fatigue here.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue is not well understood by most medical doctors and if you are suffering from it, you may feel unvalidated or you may have even been told “it’s all in your head”.

Chronic fatigue is a classified as severe, incapacitating exhaustion lasting six months or more, that isn’t explained by other conditions (such as anaemia), nor improved by rest. It may also be exacerbated by physical or mental activity. Typically, 10 minutes of moderate exercise would be enough to cause an acute exacerbation of fatigue, compared to a normal and perhaps tired person, who is typically invigorated by moderate exercise. It is also very common in people with fibromyalgia.

Chronic fatigue causes a dramatic decline in both activity level and stamina, often causing the sufferer to have to stop work completely.

Symptoms include:

  • cognitive dysfunction, including impaired memory or concentration
  • post-exertional malaise lasting more than 24 hours (exhaustion and increased symptoms) following physical or mental exercise
  • unrefreshing sleep, muscle or joint pain (without redness or swelling)
  • persistent muscle pain
  • headaches of a new type or severity
  • tender cervical or axillary (neck & armpit) lymph nodes
  • sore throat

Other Common Symptoms

In addition to the eight primary defining symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, a number of other symptoms have been reported by some patients. The frequency of occurrence of these symptoms varies among patients.

These symptoms include:

  • gastro-intestinal disturbances, such as irritable bowelabdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea or bloating
  • chills and night sweats
  • brain fog
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • chronic cough
  • visual disturbances (blurring, sensitivity to light, eye pain or dry eyes)
  • allergies or sensitivities to foods, alcohol, odours, chemicals, medications or noise
  • difficulty maintaining upright position (dizziness, balance problems or fainting)
  • psychological problems (depression, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, panic attacks)
  • weight loss or gain

A number of these conditions can also be attributed to other health issues. During your initial appointment, your practitioner will assess your overall health with a view to ascertain the cause of your problems and implement a strategy to get you on the road to recovery.

Nutritional Deficits

Getting good nutrition is key to many types of fatigue. Here are a few of the ways specific nutrient deficiencies can contribute to low energy:

  • low iron, vitamin B12 or folate. These three nutrients are required for the manufacture of red blood cells and the carrying of oxygen around the body
  • low protein intake. Without adequate protein, your body cannot undergo proper healing and repair processes
  • mineral deficiencies. Some minerals are very important for adequate sleep. Without good quality sleep, fatigue will result

Who is at Risk?

  • Vegetarians and vegans are at increased risk of some nutrient deficiencies.
  • Folk with digestive disturbances. We are what we eat, digest and absorb. You may consume a healthy, well-balanced diet, but are you absorbing the nutrients?
  • Children and pregnant & breastfeeding women. It’s surprising how many of NZ children are not getting all the nutrients that they need. Pregnancy & breastfeeding carry their own special nutritional needs.
  • Adolescents, especially females. With the onset of menstruation, nutrient loss increases. This group are also commonly either not eating well or following well-intentioned, but under-informed, vegetarian eating patterns.
  • Older adults are also at high risk of a number of different deficiencies. For example, older adults need more protein than is commonly thought. Digestion and absorption is often not as good and some medications may interfere with nutrient needs in the body

By working with one of our qualified practitioners, you can be assured that any dietary inadequacies are detected and strategies given to you to correct them.

Poor thyroid function is also a leading cause of fatigue. Read about disorders of the thyroid gland here.

Don’t lose another day to fatigue!

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