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Decoding fatigue: Causes, symptoms & how clinical research can help


Olivia Ustariz

Date Published

24 August 2023


Fatigue is a constant feeling of exhaustion that may be mental, physical, or a combination of both. Though the terms 'fatigue' and 'tired' are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Unlike tiredness, fatigue cannot be relieved by a restful night's sleep. Instead, it is characterised by an overall lack of motivation that can interfere with a person's daily life.

Fatigue is not considered a condition - rather, it is a symptom that can be caused by a variety of factors working alone or in combination with one another, such as an underlying illness, poor diet, or workplace stress. Given how varied the causes of fatigue can be, finding a suitable treatment option can be a long and arduous process. As such, clinical research into fatigue represents a promising care option for sufferers seeking relief from their symptoms. 

In this blog post, we’ll answer the questions: What is fatigue? What is it caused by? What does it look like? And, how can clinical research help relieve sufferers of their symptoms?

What is fatigue?

Fatigue refers to a feeling of chronic exhaustion or lack of energy that can disrupt a person's ability to think, solve problems, and regulate their emotions. According to the Better Health Channel, roughly 1.5 million Australians see their doctor about fatigue each year, and it is a known factor in motor vehicle and workplace accidents, as it impairs cognitive function, slows reaction times, and diminishes concentration and decision-making abilities.

What are the causes of fatigue?

Fatigue can be caused by several different factors working alone or in tandem with one another, and they generally relate to a person's lifestyle, physical health conditions, or mental health issues, including: 

  • Disturbed sleep, lack of sleep, or too much sleep. 
  • Alcohol and drugs, as both depressants and stimulants can lead to poor quality sleep. 
  • Sedentary behaviour, as regular exercise has been shown to boost energy levels and improve sleep quality.
  • Nutritionally poor diet, as the body relies on nutrients like carbohydrates for fuel. 
  • Grief, anxiety, and depression. 
  • Shift work, workplace stress, or poor workplace practices (such as long working hours), all of which can disturb a person's mental health and their regular sleeping patterns. 
  • Underlying medical illnesses, such as diabetes, glandular fever, or heart disease.
What are the symptoms of fatigue?

The symptoms of fatigue can also vary widely from one person to the next, including: 

  • Unrelenting tiredness.
  • Lack of energy or motivation.
  • Slowed reaction times and problems with hand-eye coordination.
  • Quick to tire and inability to focus on the task at hand. 
  • Poor mood, such as irritability. 
  • Muscle aches and weakness.
  • Impaired decision-making and critical thinking. 
  • Headaches, dizziness, and blurred vision. 
  • Issues with short-term memory.
  • Reduced immune system function.

Fatigue can be a vicious cycle - just as a nutritionally poor diet can lead to feelings of chronic exhaustion, chronic exhaustion can cause a person to lose their appetite, and the cycle continues.


Diagnosis and treatment

Without prompt treatment, fatigue can negatively impact your quality of life and put you at risk of ongoing health complications. For diagnosis and treatment, you should visit your GP or other health professional in the first instance. 

By running investigational tests, conducting a physical examination, and asking questions about your medical history, they can help you pinpoint and address the underlying causes of your fatigue. For instance, if your fatigue is caused by lifestyle factors, your GP may suggest introducing a few supportive measures into your daily life to help boost energy levels, such as:

  • Drinking less alcohol and caffeine. 
  • Establishing a consistent sleep schedule, as this can help train your brain to feel tired at bedtime. 
  • Partaking in relaxing activities like yoga or listening to music - when we relax, the flow of blood around our body increases, thereby giving us more energy while clearing our mind for better concentration and decision making. 
  • Where possible, limiting working hours by finishing on time each day and taking allotted holidays. 
  • Reducing inactivity and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

For some people, however, simple lifestyle changes are not sufficient to reduce their symptoms of fatigue. For people in this position, clinical trials could be considered as an alternative care option. 

The power of clinical research | Summary

Clinical trials are research studies that investigate new treatments, interventions, or diagnostic tests to better prevent, identify, or manage various medical conditions. By partaking in clinical trials, participants may not only help bring new, potentially life-changing therapies to market, they may also experience relief from their symptoms. 

At time of writing, we are recruiting for a fatigue research study that seeks to evaluate the effect of an investigational product on self-reported feelings of fatigue. The study product has been designed to help support energy levels, relieve physical fatigue, and reduce mild joint inflammation. 

To find out more about this study, and other studies for which we are currently recruiting, head to the Active Trials page on our website.