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.
By Amy Engeler
At 3 a.m., with all the houses dark up and down her winding suburban street in West Warwick, Rhode Island, Jo-Ann Frey, 37, lights a candle so she can see well enough to dust her furniture. Careful not to turn on any lights or make noise that might wake up her family, she drifts from room to room with her candle and cleaning supplies, waiting until she feels sleepy enough to climb back into bed. That feeling doesn't come -- and when she hears the alarm in the bedroom go off...
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
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
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
"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
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.