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Home > Health Library > Weakness and Fatigue
Weakness and fatigue are two different things. It's important to know exactly what you mean when you talk with your doctor about how you're feeling. It can help you and your doctor narrow down the possible causes of your symptoms.
Weakness is a lack of physical or muscle strength. You feel like you need to use extra effort to move your arms, legs, or other muscles.
General weakness often occurs after you've done too much activity at one time. For instance, maybe you took an extra-long hike. You may feel weak and tired, or your muscles may be sore. These symptoms usually go away within a few days.
In rare cases, muscle weakness may be caused by another health problem. These include:
Muscle weakness that is slowly getting worse needs to be checked by a doctor.
Sudden muscle weakness and loss of function in one area of the body also needs to be checked by a doctor right away. It can be a sign of a stroke or of a problem with the spinal cord or a nerve.
Fatigue is a feeling of tiredness, exhaustion, or lack of energy. You may feel mildly fatigued because of overwork, poor sleep, worry, boredom, or lack of exercise. Any illness may cause fatigue. It usually goes away as the illness clears up. Most of the time, mild fatigue occurs with a health problem that will improve with home treatment. It usually doesn't require a visit to a doctor.
Many medicines can cause weakness or fatigue. The use of alcohol, caffeine, or illegal drugs can cause fatigue.
Fatigue that lasts longer than 2 weeks usually requires a visit to a doctor. This type may be caused by a more serious health problem, such as:
Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression. If you think that your fatigue may be caused by a mental health problem, see your doctor.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
Symptoms of serious illness may include:
Symptoms of serious illness in a baby may include the following:
Symptoms of a heart attack may include:
For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms, like shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain.
Neurological symptoms—which may be signs of a problem with the nervous system—can affect many body functions. Symptoms may include:
Heartbeat changes can include:
Many prescription and nonprescription drugs can cause weakness and fatigue. A few examples are:
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength (325 mg) or 2 to 4 low-dose (81 mg) aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
If you have generalized weakness and fatigue along with other symptoms, look closely at those symptoms. Home treatment for your other symptoms usually will improve your weakness and fatigue. Mild generalized weakness and fatigue that occur with a viral illness usually improve with home treatment. Here are some things you can try.
Try to stay away from others and get some extra sleep.
Return to your usual activities slowly to avoid making the fatigue last longer.
Be sure to drink extra fluids to avoid dehydration.
Switch between rest and exercise. Gradually increasing your exercise may help decrease your fatigue.
Medicines like cold and allergy medicines often cause fatigue.
Eat a balanced diet to increase your energy level. Don't skip meals.
Reduce your use of alcohol or other drugs, such as caffeine or nicotine.
Spend that time with friends or try new activities to break the fatigue cycle.
This may be the first step toward controlling fatigue.
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of:
December 13, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: December 13, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
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