Friday, February 17, 2017

Fatigue and Disability

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

Fatigue is a common experience for almost everyone, a feeling of tiredness or exhaustion. When we over-exert, either physically or mentally, we feel fatigued. Most of us have experienced fatigue as a symptom of the flu or a cold.

If we have allowed our bodies to become de-conditioned and then try to return to normal activity levels, we are likely to experience fatigue before we get back into shape. If we become stressed, the overabundance of adrenaline, the “fight or flight” hormone, can cause body changes that use additional energy and leave us feeling fatigued.

These types of fatigue come on gradually, and all can be alleviated by a rest period after which we are back to normal functioning.

Unrelenting fatigue can be an invisible symptom of many types of disability. A diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) immediately comes to mind as an example. Persons with CFS have extreme persistent fatigue, seemingly without identifiable cause, that is not mitigated by rest1. Perhaps as many as 80% of persons with multiple sclerosis deal with a particular type of fatigue called lassitude2, which can come on suddenly and may feel like “hitting a wall.” Fatigue can also be a side effect of various disability medications and treatments3.

Fatigue is a symptom that occurs three times as frequently in persons with disabilities as it does in the general population4. For non-disabled people, it is possible to “push through” fatigue. But with many types of disability-related fatigue, ignoring it and continuing to exert effort only makes things worse. A variety of strategies are helpful in managing the effects of disability-related fatigue. Several will be shared on this blog over the next few weeks.


1 Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2015). Retrieved July 11, 2016 from

2 Fatigue, National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) (n.d.). Retrieved July 11, 2016 from

3 Fatigue, Mayo Clinic Staff (2016). Retrieved July 11, 2016 from

4 Thompson, L. (2004). Functional changes affecting people aging with disabilities. In B. Kemp, & L. Mosqueda (Eds.), Aging with a disability: What the clinician needs to know, (pp. 102-128). Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Image Credit: marusya21111999, Pixabay

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