Understanding Some Of The Causes Of Fatigue

2011-08-04 | |
Last updated: 2011-08-04

What Happens In The Body To Cause Fatigue?

Although many of the underlying causes of fatigue are simply not understood, in particular cases, research is making progress in understanding the root cause.

Fatigue Resulting from Chronic Pain

In the case of chronic pain, a common symptom associated with fatigue, researchers from the University of Iowa found that one protein affected the level of fatigue experienced by mice. The specific protein is involved in pain sensation and its existence decreased levels of fatigue in mice. The effectiveness of the protein in limiting fatigue was also associated with sex hormones. In particular, male mice with the protein were less prone to fatigue. At the same time, when female mice with the protein were injected with testosterone, their resistance to fatigue also increased.

According to the researchers, these results suggest that pain sensation and fatigue are related at the molecular level. The relationship to sex hormones also helps to explain why women more frequently suffer from fatigue than men.

Other research regarding this same protein has also found important results related to fatigue. In 2010, researchers from the Taiwanese National Defense Medical Center found that mice lacking this protein had reduced anxiety levels. Specifically they found that the amount of this protein in the brain affected emotional behavior.

Related research published this year from the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis found that mice exposed to surgical pain had higher levels of this protein in their nervous system.

Taken together, these combined results strongly suggest that the effects of pain directly affect anxiety levels and mental functioning associated with fatigue. This increased anxiety may also help to explain the tendency for reduced social interaction by people who are fatigued.

Fatigue due to Oxygen Levels

In contrast to pain and its complex relationship to fatigue, research into blood oxygen levels and fatigue is more straightforward. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University investigating the lung scarring disease pulmonary fibrosis found that people with the disease breathed twice as fast to compensate for reduced lung function. This resulted in most of them losing 25% of the most important type of sleep, R.E.M. sleep, leading to fatigue.

Similar research into sleep apnea at the University of California in 2009 found that levels of fatigue in people with sleep apnea were related to how often their condition caused them to be aroused during the night. In roughly one third of those studied, the arousals were caused by changes in breathing. Such changes in breathing are associated with the body adjusting breathing to compensate for low oxygen levels. This means that for many with sleep apnea, low oxygen levels also indirectly contribute to feelings of fatigue.

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Category: General Health, Medical Research, Symptom Information

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