I regularly hear the word “fatigue” being used interchangeably with the phrase “being tired”. It is a common misconception that the 2 words are the same.
Being fatigued and being tired are 2 very different symptoms.
Being fatigued and being tired are 2 very different symptoms. In this article I’ll attempt to explain my view of the difference between fatigue and tiredness related to conditions that have “fatigue” as a key symptom.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and what I write should not be taken as medical advice.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (ME) is one of those conditions where fatigue is a key symptom. The word “fatigue” is in the title after all. However, please don’t be fooled that fatigue is the only symptom, there are many, many others.
Let me explain in this article the difference between the terms fatigue and tiredness and what each one might look like.
What is fatigue?
Fatigue is an unrelenting, extreme level of “being tired”. It is a level of exhaustion that does not clear from rest or sleep. It is a symptom that is debilitating in its very nature.
Fatigue can destroy a person into a skeleton of who they once were. For that reason, the phrase “chronic fatigue syndrome” can seem almost insulting to those who suffer it, purely because the use of the word “fatigue” is so more complex than it seems.
I no longer yawn with my fatigue. Yawning makes no difference.
Fatigue is an invisible symptom, with no specific evidence to demonstrate it. It therefore requires a trust in a person’s description of their symptoms and day to day life to understand it fully.
Fatigue is needing to nap once, twice, or even all day just to get through from day to day. It’s the overwhelming weakness constantly, even if you’ve had your recommended amount of sleep every night. Fatigue is the extreme exhaustion that isn’t simply a case of having slept too much, too little, or not at all.
What is “being tired”?
Being tired is what we all are at the end of the day, a feeling that everyone is very much used to.
Tiredness happens to everyone and is expected at the end of certain activities or a long day.
However, tiredness is something that goes away. It relieves from a good night’s sleep, or a nap, or even some rest. Tiredness does affect concentration and attentiveness but will generally clear. Ever come home from a long day at work and said “I’m utterly exhausted”? That’s being tired, not fatigued.
You can still keep going despite tiredness. Tiredness does not severely affect your ability to complete the most basic of tasks like fatigue does.
Tired or fatigued?
For me, prior to being diagnosed with ME (chronic fatigue syndrome) I was going from doctor to doctor, trying to get them to understand what I was getting at when I said my ability to complete daily tasks at home was getting worse and worse. I remember seeing on my notes on the GP’s screen “tired all the time” and thinking no. No no no. I’m not “tired all the time”, I’m fatigued all the time! The 2 terms being very different.
Related: Mummying and M.E. – My M.E. Story
Tired all the time was what I was when E was a tiny baby, sleepless nights, cluster feeding and all that. Fatigued all the time is what I am now, despite sleeping 8 hours a night, eating (relatively) well, getting fresh air daily.
But unable to walk more than about 20 metres without the extreme exhaustion, and inevitable post-exertional malaise (basically feeling even worse than normal starting 12-24 hours after any kind of exertion) that follows.
Are you someone who suffers with fatigue either as part of ME or a different chronic illness? How would you describe the difference between fatigue and tiredness? Comment below and let me know your thoughts.
Liked this article and want to make sure you receive my latest blog posts direct to your inbox? Subscribe here and leave the rest to me.