Fatigue and weakness are terms that are typically used interchangeably- as if they have the same meaning. However, they actually describe two completely different sensations.
It is critical that you know exactly what you are referring to when you describe feeling weak or feeling fatigued.
When you’re clear on what you mean, you and your physician will be better able to work together to figure out what exactly is causing your symptoms.
Both fatigue and weakness are very common symptoms of the condition of fibromyalgia.
Weakness is a term that describes an overall lack of muscle or physical strength and the overall feeling that you need to exert extra effort to move your legs, arms, and other muscles.
If weakness is due to sore muscles, an individual may be able to get their muscles to work, but it hurts.
On the other hand, fatigue is a term that describes a feeling of extreme exhaustion, tiredness, or a need to get some rest due to a lack of strength or energy. Fatigue may arise from lack of quality sleep, boredom, lack of exercise, overwork, or worry.
In addition, it could be a sign or symptom of a medical condition, including fibro, or a medical treatment, including chemo. In addition, fatigue can be caused by depression or anxiety.
Something you must keep in mind is that fatigue and weakness are symptoms- not diseases of themselves.
Since these are signs and symptoms that indicate other health problems, the importance of them can only be determined when looked at along with the other signs and symptoms.
Of course, general weakness is something that occurs after doing too much activity at once, such as taking an extra-long walk. You may experience a feeling of weakness or tiredness, and you may have sore muscles.
This will typically go away within just a few days. On the other hand, in some rare cases, general weakness could be due to other health problems including:
- Mineral and electrolyte imbalance- such as lowered levels of sodium or potassium
- Urinary tract, respiratory, or other infections
- Issues with the thyroid (very high or very low levels), which helps to regulate the way your body uses energy
- Guillain-Barre syndrome, which is a rare disorder involving the nerves that result in weakness of the arms, legs, and other muscles. This can progress into total paralysis
- Myasthenia gravis, which is a chronic and rare disorder that is characterized by rapid muscle fatigue and overall weakness
If you have a weakness that is getting worse over time, you should visit your physician to figure out why.
Keep in mind that sudden muscle weakness and/or loss of functioning in one particular area of the body could indicate that there is a problem either in the brain, in the spinal cord, or with a specific nerve within the body.
Feeling fatigued means that you feel tired, exhausted, or just an overall lack of energy. You might feel mild fatigue due to poor sleep, boredom, lack of exercise, overwork, or worry.
In addition, illnesses such as the flu or a cold can cause fatigue- but this typically will clear up once the illness goes away.
In most cases, mild fatigue occurring as a result of a particular health problem will improve with self-treatment and doesn’t require that you visit your physician.
Stressful and/or emotional situations may also result in causing you to feel fatigued, but this particular form of fatigue will typically clear up once the stressor has ceased.
Many medications- both prescription and non-prescription can cause weakness and/or fatigue as a side effect. Finally, the use and abuse of illegal drugs, alcohol, and even caffeine can cause you to feel fatigued.
Typically, fatigue lasting less than 2 weeks is perfectly normal and will not require a doctor visit.
However, if your fatigue lasts for more than 2 weeks or occurs along with more significant symptoms such as breathing problems signs/symptoms of a more serious illness, unexplained/rapid weight loss/gain, and abnormal bleeding, you should see your physician find out what is going on.
Some of the more serious health conditions that could be indicated by fatigue are:
- A decrease in oxygen-carrying hemoglobin in your red blood cells, which signals anemia
- Heart problems such as heart failure or coronary artery disease that causes the oxygen-rich blood flow to the heart and/or the rest of the body to be limited
- Thyroid problems- both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism as well as other problems with your thyroid gland
- Metabolic disorders such as the condition of diabetes which causes sugar to remain in your blood instead of entering your body’s cells to be used for energy.
- Kidney disease and/or liver disease which can result in feeling fatigued once the concentration of specific chemicals in your blood builds to toxic levels.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of weakness and fatigue and there is no clear-cut cause, you may wish to visit a mental health professional to be evaluated.
Many times, one of the signs and symptoms of anxiety and/or depression are fatigue and weakness. It is possible for depression and anxiety to become so serious that you may consider suicide as a way out.
If you believe that your weakness and fatigue could be caused by a mental health condition, please see your physician as soon as possible.
If you have been diagnosed with the condition of fibro, please know that fatigue and weakness are common signs and symptoms.
However, if these occur with other signs and symptoms, you should definitely be evaluated. It is possible that you have a co-occurring condition along with your fibro.
The best way to control your weakness and fatigue is by making sure you’re leading a healthy lifestyle, including drinking plenty of water, eating healthy foods, getting sufficient sleep, and getting sufficient exercise.
After all, the best way to a more healthy you are to take care of yourself first and foremost.