When to See a Doctor for Fatigue

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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As a symptom, fatigue may rank at the top of the list of complaints people talk about when visiting the doctor, but what does fatigue mean in everyday life? Usually it just means you need a little more sleep, because feeling fatigued now and then is normal and not a cause for concern. Sometimes, however, fatigue can indicate an underlying medical issue that requires treatment. Here’s how to tell when you should see a doctor for your fatigue.

Common Causes of Fatigue

The term fatigue describes a lack of energy, coupled with a loss of motivation. Fatigue is not sleepiness, drowsiness, depression or apathy—although all those things can accompany fatigue. You may feel very tired, but fatigue is more than that.

Experiencing occasional fatigue is not abnormal. For instance, fatigue in pregnancy is entirely normal. It’s also normal to feel fatigued after engaging in vigorous physical activity.

Common causes for fatigue are:

  • Anemia

  • Boredom

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome

  • Grief

  • Illness or disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or cancer

  • Lack of sleep

  • Medication or medical treatment side effects

  • Pregnancy

  • Stress, anxiety or depression

  • Thyroid gland issues

Fatigue Treatment at Home

The first home remedy you should try for fatigue is sleep. A good night or two of rest usually eliminates fatigue and restores your energy. Other techniques for treating fatigue include:

  • Drinking plenty of water and avoiding energy drinks, sodas and similar products

  • Eating a healthy diet

  • Exercising regularly

  • Managing your stress

  • Quitting smoking

  • Reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, as these can interfere with restful, deep sleep

If you experience chronic or extreme fatigue, you can keep a fatigue diary to help your doctor begin the diagnostic process. Take note of when episodes of fatigue hit. Include the day and time of the fatigue, everything you ate and drank that day, when you turned the lights out to sleep and when you woke, and if you exercised.

When to See a Doctor for Fatigue

You should call 911 if your fatigue is accompanied by any of these other symptoms:

  • Blurry vision

  • Change in mental status, such as becoming disoriented, confused or unconscious

  • Inability to urinate

  • Inability to wake someone who complained of fatigue

  • Recent sudden weight gain or swelling

  • Thoughts of harming or killing yourself

In other cases, make an appointment with your primary care provider. See your doctor for fatigue that has lasted for many weeks and is accompanied by:

When you visit your doctor, take a list of all the prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements you take. Many drugs and over-the-counter products can disrupt sleep and cause fatigue. Drowsiness, which is often mistaken for fatigue, is a common side effect of medicines. If you are taking prescription medicine(s) that can cause fatigue, ask your doctor about changing the time you take it, changing the dose, or switching to a different medicine. Do not stop taking your medicine without first consulting the prescribing doctor.

Who to See for Fatigue

If you experience fatigue on an ongoing basis and it doesn’t respond to self-care at home, see your primary healthcare provider. He or she likely will take a thorough health history to determine if lifestyle issues could be at the root of your fatigue. You also probably will undergo some lab work to look for vitamin deficiencies, thyroid dysfunction, pregnancy and other common causes of fatigue.

If you doctor can’t make a diagnosis from this routine testing, then you may undergo some more advanced tests to look for unusual causes of fatigue, such as cancer, Addison’s disease, or infection (such as HIV). Your doctor may suggest you consult a specialist based on your test results.

In most cases, fatigue resolves with changes in diet, exercise, sleep and medications or supplements. But you can always feel good about consulting your doctor for help treating any fatigue symptoms that linger.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jul 10
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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. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/fatigue.html
  2. Fatigue. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003088.htm
  3. Fatigue in Older Adults. U.S. National Institute on Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/fatigue-older-adults