Search for Health Information You Need

Fatigue and its Causes: Digestive Disorders

Fatigue is characterized by a complete lack of energy and motivation or feeling of debilitating tiredness. It is associated with an increased need for rest or the inability to recover energy after rest periods. Fatigue is a symptom often associated with many digestive disorders. Digestion is a process that delivers energy-providing nutrients to all body tissues. Any condition that interferes with this process may cause a variety of symptoms including fatigue.

Other factors that may cause fatigue include:

  • Physical exertion and inactivity. It is normal to feel tired after strenuous activity. Although the longer-term effect of physical exertion is an increase in energy level, people who are inactive may tire quickly even after moderate exertion.
  • Lack of sleep. You may feel drowsy and tired when you get only one hour less sleep than your body requires. Sleep requirements vary from person to person and by age. Most adults need about eight hours of sleep, adolescents around 9.5 hours whereas newborns need between 16 to 20 hours of sleep per day.
  • Boredom or depression may sap a person’s energy, creating feelings of lethargy and result in fatigue.
  • Stress or anxiety may not allow the person to relax or to get proper rest, resulting in fatigue.
  • Lack of proper diet. Poorly nourished individuals or those who do not get enough fluids are likely to have less energy and to feel fatigued.
  • Vitamin deficiency. Lack of certain vitamins, such as vitamins B1, B9 and B12, can cause feelings of fatigue.

Fatigue associated with these factors can be either acute or chronic in duration. Individuals experiencing fatigue that lasts for two weeks and has no obvious cause should see their doctor. Such situation may be due to a condition called chronic fatigue syndrome or another underlying medical condition.

Fatigue can be associated with psychological symptoms such as:

  • Apathy
  • Frustration
  • Irritability
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lethargy
  • Sadness

Physical responses to fatigue may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Feeling of heaviness in the arms and legs
  • Headaches
  • Inability to sleep
  • Muscle pain
  • Oversleeping

Potential Causes of Fatigue

Causes of fatigue can be broken into biological, psychological and behavioural. Thus, the origin of fatigue can be hard to diagnose. It should be also noted that no specific medical tests for measuring fatigue exist.

Digestive Disorders as the Main Biological Cause of Fatigue

Many types of digestive disorders may trigger fatigue. Liver diseases, such as cirrhosis, fatty liver, viral hepatitis and hemochromatosis may cause fatigue because they impede the liver’s ability to process nutrients and toxins adequately. Fatigue can also result from conditions causing gastrointestinal bleeding such as stomach ulcers and from anaemia related to gastrointestinal stromal tumors. Other diseases, for example those involving the malabsorption of nutrients, may also cause fatigue. Chronic digestive disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease, also produce fatigue.

Fatigue can be a symptom of a certain disease or a side effect of some treatment. For instance, fatigue is a side effect of a number of medications used to treat other diseases, including hepatitis C, allergy and common colds and heart disease. Fatigue can also be caused by an array of other health conditions that affect heart, blood circulation, breathing, mobility and other vital functions which are not directly related to digestive disorders.

Behavioral Causes of Fatigue

  • Dehydration
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol or caffeine
  • Inactivity
  • Lack of sleep
  • Overexertion
  • Poor eating habits
  • Use of illegal drugs

Fatigue induced by these factors may subside naturally or with a few lifestyle changes, such as going to bed earlier or engaging in regular exercise.

Psychological Causes of Fatigue

Though fatigue caused by psychological factors may also subside on its own, individuals may benefit from mental-health counseling.

Treatment and Prevention of Fatigue

Fatigue is often a symptom of another health problem rather than a diagnosable condition. Once the actual cause, such as a gastrointestinal disorder, has been diagnosed by a doctor, fatigue can be treated. If a certain medication is found to be the cause, it may be replaced by a different drug, which should help relieve the feeling of fatigue.

Other Methods for Treating and Preventing Fatigue

Activity and rest. Individuals suffering from fatigue should define priorities for their daily activities and use a schedule to conserve energy. To reduce fatigue and improve sleeping habits, patients may need to adapt their lifestyle by limiting daytime naps, lying down only when ready to sleep, increasing activity level during the day, avoiding foods before bedtime that may interfere with sleep and eliminating sources of distracting sounds when sleeping.

Avoiding Stimulants. Patients with fatigue should avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and other stimulants because they may worsen the disorder by interfering with sleep. Sedatives should not be taken by patients experiencing fatigue either.

Exercise. Engaging in regular exercise can help increase energy, stimulate appetite, improve mood and boost strength, endurance and stamina in many patients experiencing fatigue. Most experts recommend that individuals begin with short periods of low-intensity exercise (e.g. leisurely walking) and gradually increase the duration and intensity level of their exercise until they reach 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week. Some patients with digestive disorders may find it difficult to exercise, though. All patients should speak to their doctor first to determine whether exercise is appropriate for them and which exercises are most beneficial for their particular condition.

Hydration and nutrition. Patients who experience fatigue should drink a minimum of eight glasses of liquids every day to remain properly hydrated. Not skipping meals and eating a nutritious and balanced diet that contains complex carbohydrates (vegetables and grains) but also sufficient quantities of proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals will provide sustained energy sources and help the body meet its energy demands. It is recommended to avoid sugary cereals, sweetened juices and caffeinated beverages. Some patients may also benefit from taking a vitamin supplement.

Stress Reduction. Most individuals suffering from fatigue may benefit from stress reduction. This can be best achieved by employing relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation. Avoiding unnecessary stress should also help. This may require changing jobs or taking a vacation.