Your complete online medical source

Navigate by theme:


Return to index

Bone, Muscle, and Joint Problems

Weakness and Fatigue

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Weakness is a lack of physical or muscle strength and a feeling that extra effort is required to move your arms, legs, or other muscles.

Fatigue is a feeling of tiredness, exhaustion, or lack of energy.

Unexplained muscle weakness is usually more serious than fatigue. It may be caused by diabetes (See Diabetes), thyroid problems, stroke, or other problems related to the brain and spinal cord. Call your doctor immediately if you have unexplained muscle weakness.

Fatigue, on the other hand, can usually be treated with self-care. Most fatigue is caused by lack of exercise, stress or overwork, lack of sleep, depression, worry, or boredom. Colds and flu may sometimes cause fatigue and weakness, but the symptoms disappear as the illness runs its course.


Top of Page

  • Regular exercise is your best defense against fatigue. If you feel too tired to exercise vigorously, try a short walk.

  • Eat a well-balanced diet. See Nutrition.

  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep. See Sleep Problems.

  • Deal with emotional problems instead of ignoring or denying them. This chapter is organized in 2 sections. The first section covers some common mental and emotional health problems and describes what you can do to treat them at home and when you should seek professional help. The second section describes the relationship between your mental health and your physical health..

    Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

    Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a flu-like illness that causes severe fatigue lasting longer than 6 months. Other symptoms include mild fever, sore throat, painful lymph glands, confusion, irrita- bility, and sleep problems. The fatigue and other symptoms usually develop quickly in a previously healthy person.

    CFS is difficult to diagnose. There is no definitive lab test. Many other illnesses, such as depression, thyroid disorders, or mononucleosis, cause similar symptoms. A CFS diagnosis is made only after fatigue and other symptoms continue for at least 6 months and other possible causes have been ruled out.

    Treatment is focused on adequate rest, balanced diet, and moderate exercise. No medications are known to cure CFS. Treatment of the individual symptoms can be effective. For treatment of depression, which develops in about of people with CFS, See Depression.

    Call your doctor if unexplained fatigue is severe, persistent, and interferes with your activities for more than 2 weeks despite Home Treatment.

  • Take steps to control your stress and workload. See Stress and Distress.

Home Treatment

Top of Page

  • Follow the Prevention guidelines above and be patient. It may take a while before you feel energetic again.

  • Listen to your body. Alternate rest with exercise.

  • Limit medications that might contribute to fatigue. Tranquilizers and cold and allergy medications are particularly suspect.

  • Reduce your use of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.

  • Cut back on watching television. Spend that time with friends, try new activities, or travel to break the fatigue cycle.

When to Call a Health Professional

Top of Page

  • If you have unexplained muscle weakness in one area of your body.

  • If severe fatigue causes you to limit your usual activities for longer than 2 weeks despite Home Treatment.

  • If you experience sudden, unexplained weight loss.

  • If you do not feel more energetic after 4 weeks of Home Treatment.

  • If fatigue gets worse despite Home Treatment.

Top of Page