Lack of Energy

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What is lack of energy?

Lack of energy can be described as tiredness, weariness, lethargy or fatigue. It can be accompanied by depression, decreased motivation, or apathy. Lack of energy can be a normal response to inadequate sleep, overexertion, overworking, stress, lack of exercise, or boredom. When part of a normal response, lack of energy often resolves with rest, adequate sleep, stress management, and good nutrition.

Persistent lack of energy that does not resolve with self-care may be an indication of an underlying physical or psychological disorder. Common causes include allergies and asthma, anemia, cancer and its treatments, chronic pain, heart disease, infection, depression, eating disorders, grief, sleeping disorders, thyroid problems, medication side effects, alcohol use, or drug use.

Patterns and symptoms of lack of energy may help you discover its cause. If it starts in the morning and lasts all day, it could be due to lack of sleep or depression. If it develops as the day passes and is accompanied by dry skin, constipation, cold sensitivity, and weight gain, it may be caused by an underactive thyroid gland. The combination of shortness of breath and lack of energy could be due to heart or lung problems. The goal of a doctor’s evaluation is to identify the root cause(s) for the condition.

Persistent fatigue with no clear diagnosis may result from chronic fatigue syndrome, which can start with a flu-like illness and is often not relieved with rest. Other symptoms, such as cognitive difficulties, prolonged exhaustion and illness after activity, muscle or joint pain, sore throat, headache, and tender lymph nodes, are common.

Lack of energy by itself is rarely an emergency; however, if it develops suddenly or is accompanied by other serious symptoms, it may require immediate evaluation to avoid significant complications. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for sudden energy loss, dizziness, chest pain or pressure, confusion, loss of vision or changes in vision, high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), sudden swelling or weight gain, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate (tachycardia), change in level of consciousness or alertness, severe pain, or if you think you might be a danger to yourself or others.

If your lack of energy is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.

What other symptoms might occur with lack of energy?

Lack of energy may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Lack of energy is a nonspecific symptom, so identifying other symptoms may be helpful in determining its cause.

Heart and lung symptoms that may occur along with lack of energy

Lack of energy may accompany other symptoms affecting the heart or lungs including:

  • Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Shortness of breath (worsens with exertion)
  • Wheezing (whistling sound made with breathing)

Other symptoms that may occur along with lack of energy

Lack of energy may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, lack of energy may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

What causes lack of energy?

Lack of energy can be a normal response to inadequate sleep, overexertion, overworking, stress, lack of exercise, or boredom. When part of a normal response, lack of energy often resolves with rest, adequate sleep, stress management, and good nutrition. Persistent lack of energy that does not resolve with self-care may be due to a variety of diseases, disorders or conditions.

Heart and lung-related causes of lack of energy

Lack of energy may be caused by heart and lung problems including:

Psychosocial and neurological causes of lack of energy

Lack of energy may be caused by psychosocial or neurological conditions including:

  • Alcohol use
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Drug abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Grief
  • Overwork
  • Work shift changes

Other causes of lack of energy

Lack of energy can also be caused by diseases, disorders or conditions including:

Serious or life-threatening causes of lack of energy

In some cases, lack of energy may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Acute decompensated heart failure (rapid deterioration of the heart’s ability to pump blood)
  • Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm)
  • Drug overdose
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Exposure to environmental toxin or poison
  • Hemorrhage or internal bleeding
  • Severe depression
  • Severe infection
  • Trauma

Questions for diagnosing the cause of lack of energy

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your lack of energy including:

  • When did you first notice your lack of energy?
  • Are you getting sufficient sleep?
  • How often is lack of energy affecting you?
  • Do you have any stress in your life?
  • How is your mood?
  • What is your schedule like?
  • What is your diet like?
  • What kind of exercise do you get?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • Do you drink any alcohol?
  • Do you use any illicit drugs?

What are the potential complications of lack of energy?

Because lack of energy can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Accidental trauma
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression
  • Disability
  • Isolation
  • Progressive heart, lung, liver or kidney disease
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 7
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Fatigue. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003088.htm.
  2. Depression. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003213.htm.
  3. Ricci JA, Chee E, Lorandeau AL, Berger J. Fatigue in the U.S. workforce: prevalence and implications for lost productive work time. J Occup Environ Med 2007; 49:1.
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