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Chronic Fatigue: Tired of Feeling Tired?

Learn what may be causing your chronic fatigue ... and 10 solutions.
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WebMD Feature

Sure, we all know what it feels like to be tired. But chronic fatigue refers to a lingering tiredness that is constant and limiting.

According Harris H. McIlwain, MD, Tampa-based rheumatologist and author of The Fibromyalgia Handbook, patients who complain of fatigue feel tired even when they've had plenty of sleep and should feel rested.

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While some patients admit to feeling sleepy, with fatigue there's usually there's a feeling of exhaustion without feeling drowsy says McIlwain, an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida. "Some patients with fatigue compare it to having the flu or to the feeling after working very long hours and missing a lot of sleep."

These patients say they are fatigued on arising in the morning, fatigued after mild activity such as grocery shopping, too fatigued to function adequately at work or do household chores, and too fatigued to exercise or have sex, McIlwain says. "In most cases, there's a reason for the fatigue, whether poor time management, too much caffeine, anemia, fibromyalgia, depression, or even undiagnosed heart disease."

Before you blame your age or your "superwoman" lifestyle on your feelings of fatigue, learn what might be at the root of your unexplained tiredness and what some top experts recommend to resolve your chronic fatigue.

Chronic Fatigue Cause No. 1: Time-Stacking

For many women who suffer from fatigue, the diagnosis is "time-stacking" or multitasking to the max and not getting enough sleep.

"If you're juggling kids, careers, and a long list of commitments and only getting five or six hours a night, it will catch up with you, says McIlwain.

But what if you're a healthy woman, getting eight hours of sleep nightly, and still feel fatigue? McIlwain recommends a checkup to see if there are any health problems to blame for the fatigue.

If you feel fatigued for longer than a week or two and you're getting plenty of sleep and you don't have a cold or other viral infection, McIlwain says to call your doctor. "Most of the time fatigue has a fairly straightforward explanation, and sometimes medical treatment is necessary."

Fatigue can also be the sign of a serious illness, which is why your doctor may be able to quickly diagnose the problem.

Chronic Fatigue Cause No. 2: Caffeine Overload

Many of us grab an espresso, latte, or cola for a quick burst of energy, but for some women, caffeine has the opposite effect.

In an article published in the journal US Pharmacist, W. Stephen Pray, PhD, RPh, reports that caffeine is a stimulant, but if you take too much, the tables can turn.

"In some patients, continued abuse results in fatigue," says Pray. And if you think this means you simply require more caffeine to get the kick, this isn't the case. "Any attempts to solve the problem by increasing caffeine intake causes the fatigue to worsen," he says.

The solution to caffeine overload? Eliminate as much caffeine from your diet as possible. This means not only cutting out coffee. Chocolate, tea, soda, and even some over-the-counter and prescription medications also contain caffeine and could be causing unexplained fatigue.

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