Date PostedJuly 30, 2014

Recognising the Difference between Fatigue and Tiredness

I often hear people use the words fatigue and tired interchangeably but the truth is there is a difference between the 2.

Instead of using the word fatigue as a synonym for tiredness, it is important that we recognise and identify the difference between these 2 because one represents a more serious problem than the other.

If you notice that you are “tired” or exhausted all the time, you may have a more serious problem than simply being “tired”, you may actually be suffering from fatigue and more have a health condition which could be serious.

According one researcher at the University of Alberta, Dr Karin Olson said that people should take these conditions seriously because in the worst cases they can lead to death. Dr Olson is currently investigating fatigue and argues that there are differences between tiredness, fatigue and exhaustion.

Dr Olson’s findings were published in the current issue of “Oncology Nursing Forum.” and according to a post on Olson has studied fatigue in six ill and non-ill populations and these were some of her findings:

shift workers, recreational long distance runners, individuals with cancer in active treatment or palliative settings, and individuals diagnosed with depression or chronic fatigue syndrome. Having worked with cancer patients for many years, she saw how serious fatigue was and the impact it had on the patients’ quality of life. Some patients even withdrew for a potentially curative treatment saying they were “too tired.”


“The kind of fatigue experienced by individuals with cancer is different from the feeling that you or I have at the end of a busy week,” said Olson. “Interestingly, when you start looking at other populations, such as people with chronic illnesses or shift workers and take a broad view, the descriptions of fatigue are the same. Thus, while the reasons for fatigue may vary, the kinds of adaptations required may not.”



According to Olson, people who are tired still have an amount of energy left although they may feel forgetful, impatient and experience gradual heaviness or weakness in the muscles but these symptoms are alleviated by rest.

Fatigue on the other hand, according to Olson is characterised by an inability to concentrate, anxiety, increased sensitivity to light and lack of coordination.

People suffering from exhaustion involved in Olson’s study reported confusion resembling delirium, emotional numbness, sudden loss of energy, difficulty staying awake etc.

The post went on to explain according to Olson,

“It is important to recognize the difference between tiredness and fatigue, because fatigue is a marker that the body is not able to keep up,” says Olson. “The onset of the manifestations of fatigue, particularly if these are not normal states for you, should be taken seriously.”Failing to understand the distinctions between tiredness, fatigue and exhaustion could result in the use of inappropriate interventions that inadvertently promote fatigue and exhaustion. Olson has some evidence that while exercise appears to help those who are tired, it may decrease the ability to adapt in individuals experiencing fatigue and exhaustion.


Long-term use of caffeine and other stimulants should also be avoided by people experiencing fatigue and exhaustion, as these substances “fool” the body into thinking it has more energy available than it really does.



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