Fatigue is a feeling of physical or emotional exhaustion. It goes beyond just feeling sleepy. It usually happens when you over-exert or “push” yourself too hard. You may feel weak, which can make it difficult for you to do the things you want to do. Fatigue is a common problem associated with persistent pain.

Symptoms of fatigue

Symptoms of fatigue can vary from person to person. Fatigue may last a short or long time. It may strike randomly or happen at predictable times, such as when you have an increase in pain. Some people have ongoing problems with fatigue. These get worse during periods of high pain.

When you are fatigued, you may:

  • feel very tired and have no energy

  • lose interest in your normal activities and just want to sleep, especially during the day

  • experience increased pain, usually because your tiredness makes it especially difficult to cope with pain

  • feel helpless and experience little control, which can make you less able to do your usual activities

  • be less able to concentrate, as fatigue can make it hard to focus on specific things or tasks that you need to do

  • feel irritable and easily annoyed, which may put a strain on your relationships with friends and family

  • feel depressed –being fatigued can lower negatively impact your mood and emotions.

Causes of fatigue

Many things can cause fatigue, such as:

  • joint and muscle pain

  • depression or low mood

  • stress or worrying

  • illness

  • overdoing activities

  • poor sleep habits

  • lack of physical activity

  • other medical problems, such as anemia

  • some pain medications.

Sleep medications

If you have trouble sleeping, you might be prescribed a medication to help you sleep. This type of medication can help you get over a bad spell of not sleeping well. However, you should not use it long-term. This is because these drugs can lead to tolerance, where your body needs more of the medication for it to work properly.

Some sleep medications are available over-the-counter, without a prescription. Melatonin is a hormone in the body that helps adjust your body clock (circadian rhythms) and is commonly used to treat sleep problems. However, melatonin will only work to treat circadian rhythm disorder. It is not the best option if you have insomnia. If you do take melatonin, remember that it needs to be taken several hours before bedtime. If taken directly before bed, it might actually interfere with your sleep more than it helps. Melatonin may also interfere with sex hormones, which are very important in regulating your reproductive system.

Before trying any medications, however, discuss their use with your healthcare team.

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