Is my tiredness normal or do I have a problem?

Most fatigue is normal, reflecting inadequate sleep, overwork or stress. Normal fatigue is usually relieved by a good night’s rest or, at most, a relaxing weekend. When this is not the case, conditions and illnesses that cause fatigue should be considered.

As common in medicine, history is most important. How long has the fatigue been going on? When the onset can be traced to a lifestyle change – different work schedule, new marriage, etc. – the answer usually relates to the change with causes such as inadequate relaxation or new stresses.

When is the fatigue most apparent? Weekday fatigue absent on weekends would certainly suggest factors such as stress and overwork. One caveat: most fatigue, whatever the cause, improves with a good, relaxing weekend but, if the fatigue is due to an illness, the fatigue might improve over the weekend but should not be entirely gone.

Weekday fatigue might be the result of “sick building syndrome,” an often overlooked cause. Most office buildings built since the 1970s are sealed making it impossible to open a window. If the HVAC does not provide enough fresh air the irritation from air contaminated by building chemicals, mold, etc. causes nasal and sinus symptoms with resulting fatigue.

What about fatigue that is more noticeable on the weekend than during the work week? It happens more often than you might think. Assuming that the weekend is not loaded with a stress that is less apparent than that noted during the week, several factors are often responsible.

Obviously too much socializing, partying and drinking could well be the cause, but these are usually obvious to the person. A more subtle reason for fatigue more apparent on the weekend than during the week is, oddly, too much sleep. Many people get an “overslept” sensation when they sleep in on a Saturday or Sunday.

Fatigue due to too much sleep is a curiosity noted more commonly in patients with allergies and sinus problems than it is in the general population. People with this condition need a fixed amount of sleep and should not sleep more than the usual required hours.

Other causes of weekend fatigue would include allergic exposure that does not occur during the week. Outdoor activities with resultant exposure to airborne allergens can cause fatigue as well as typical allergy symptoms.

Of course, too much alcohol on the weekend can cause fatigue. Sometimes the relationship isn’t obvious. Some individuals have an allergic response to alcohol, particularly red wine, producing fatigue the following day after amounts that were quite reasonable.

If I’m not fatigued on a vacation does that mean my fatigue is due to stress? Not necessarily. A change in climate is quite helpful for people with fatigue related to allergies. A person might be tired in a rainy area of the country that is laden with mold but feel quite good in the clean, dry desert. Additionally, there might be some airborne irritant present at home or in the office that’s not present in the vacation home or hotel room.

When trying to find an answer for the symptom of fatigue keeping a fatigue diary can be quite helpful. Noting any activities, sleep patterns or locations that improve fatigue can offer an important clue.

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