Does Covid Make You Tired

Some 85% of long COVID patients experience fatigue, making it one of the most common long COVID symptoms.

Is Fatigue a Sign of COVID-19?

It’s actually a pretty common symptom of any viral infection.

Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, shopping, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Women’s Health, Self, Prevention, Forbes, Daily Beast, and more.

Updated on October 9, 2022
Medically reviewed by

Kashif J. Piracha, MD, FACP, FASN, FNKF, is a practicing physician at Methodist Willowbrook Hospital.

Occasionally feeling run-down is a part of life. However, fatigue is a different story: It occurs when a person is not very energized, tired, or weary, according to MedlinePlus. Fatigue even involves a lack of motivation in some cases. So, how can you tell if your tiredness is due to COVID-19 or something else entirely?

How Common Is Fatigue With COVID-19?

Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has listed fatigue as an official symptom of COVID-19 as of March 2022, having fatigue doesn’t automatically mean that you have the virus, Amesh Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Health. “It’s kind of a nondescript symptom,” said Dr. Adalja.

Still, feeling wiped out is common with most viral illnesses. “It has to do with substances called cytokines that the immune system produces when under attack,” Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician near Akron, Ohio, and a professor of medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, told Health.

Those cytokines signal to your body that it’s time to go to work and fight off an infection, but the aftermath can make you feel tired. After all, your body focuses its energy on fighting off an invader, even if you can’t see it.

Experts have also found that some individuals deal with long-term effects—known as post-COVID conditions—as a result of having had COVID-19. Among those symptoms are issues like difficulty breathing, sleep problems, and fatigue that interrupt everyday life.

In an August 2021 study published in Scientific Reports, researchers conducted a literature review focused on the long-term effects of COVID-19. Across the 15 studies that met their inclusion criteria, 80% of the COVID-19 patients developed at least one long-term symptom—fatigue was one of the most reported symptoms among 58% of individuals.

How Can You Know if Your Fatigue Is a Symptom of COVID-19?

This can be a little hard to determine at times. In general, Dr. Adalja said that you should have other symptoms as well. “Usually, you’ll have some symptoms, like muscle aches, pains, or a sore throat, even if it’s minor,” added Dr. Adalja. “It’s usually not just fatigue in and of itself.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists several common symptoms of a COVID-19 infection. Keep in mind these are possible symptoms, and as the virus changes or for those with other underlying health conditions, symptoms may appear differently:

  • Fever and chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

That doesn’t mean you can’t have COVID-19 and only experience fatigue as a symptom—it’s just not common given the wide range of symptoms that often accompany the virus.

Consider Other Causes of Fatigue

To try to figure out what’s going on, Dr. Adalja recommended looking at your fatigue as part of the bigger picture. For example, it might be due to the nature of your work environment, home life, or a combination of both if you work from home. “You have to think about why you’re fatigued,” said Dr. Adalja. “Is it because you ran a marathon or were up late, studying for a test? Try to see if you have an easy explanation.”

Harvard Health Publishing, through Harvard Medical School, explained other common conditions with overlapping symptoms of COVID-19. These conditions include the common cold and influenza (flu) infection. All of these conditions may present with a cough, fever, and sore throat, and all may contribute to fatigue.

Taking an at-home COVID-19 test or getting tested at a testing site or healthcare clinic are ways you can determine if you do have a COVID-19 infection.

And, of course, if fatigue impacts your daily life, calling a healthcare professional is always an option. They may want to test you for COVID-19 or other conditions or do a physical exam. There are many health issues, and lifestyle factors can cause fatigue, and a healthcare professional can help get to the bottom of your specific needs.

How Do You Treat Fatigue From COVID-19?

There are ways to manage fatigue during or after the time you have had COVID-19. Researchers from an April 2022 study published in the Indian Journal of Tuberculosis provided the following suggestions to overcome fatigue after a COVID-19 infection:

  • Resting and allowing time for recovery
  • Being active but keeping activity low
  • Having a balanced diet
  • Pausing studies or work responsibilities
  • Building time to have fun on a daily basis

The CDC has also offered recommendations for preventing COVID-19 infection, such as getting vaccinated and monitoring your health for signs and symptoms of the disease. As of January 2022, the CDC has also noted reports of side effects—including tiredness and fatigue—after people have received doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, in general, most side effects have reportedly been mild or moderate.

Overall, if concerns about chronic fatigue remain, it’s always a good idea to talk with a healthcare professional to determine what will work for you individually.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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Does Covid Make You Tired

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Does Covid Make You Tired

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  1. Natasha Yates Assistant Professor, General Practice, Bond University

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People are often surprised by how fatigued they are during a COVID infection.

Fatigue is more than being worn out or sleepy. It’s an excessive tiredness that persists despite resting or good sleep. It’s likely a result of our body’s strong immune response to the virus.

But in some people the fatigue drags on even when the infection is gone. This can be debilitating and frustrating. Simply resting more makes no difference.

Here’s what we know about post-COVID fatigue, and what can help.

Fatigue or tiredness? What’s the difference?

The term fatigue can mean different things to different people. Some people mean their muscles are easily weakened. Walking to the mailbox feels like they have run a marathon. Others describe a generalised exhaustion, whether they are moving or not. People can experience physical, mental or emotional fatigue, or any combination of these.

The difference between tiredness and fatigue is this: tiredness can get better with enough rest, while fatigue persists even if someone is sleeping and resting more than ever.

How big a problem is this?

Because there is no agreed definition of post-COVID fatigue, it is impossible to give exact numbers of how many people experience it.

Estimates vary considerably worldwide. One review of 21 studies found 13-33% of people were fatigued 16-20 weeks after their symptoms started. This is a worryingly widespread problem.

When should I see my GP?

There are many potential causes of fatigue. Even before the pandemic, fatigue was one of the most common reasons to see a GP.

Most serious causes can be ruled out when your GP asks about your symptoms and examines you. Sometimes your GP will investigate further, perhaps by ordering blood tests.

Symptoms that should raise particular concern include fevers, unexplained weight loss, unusual bleeding or bruising, pain (anywhere) that wakes you from sleep, or drenching night sweats.

If your fatigue is getting worse rather than better, or you cannot care for yourself properly, you really should seek medical care.

Is it like long COVID?

Early in the pandemic, we realised some patients had a cluster of debilitating symptoms that dragged on for months, which we now call long COVID.

Some 85% of long COVID patients experience fatigue, making it one of the most common long COVID symptoms.

However, people with long COVID have a range of other symptoms, such as “brain fog”, headaches and muscle aches. Patients with long COVID therefore experience more than fatigue, and sometimes don’t have fatigue at all.

Is this like chronic fatigue syndrome?

We knew about chronic fatigue syndrome, otherwise known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, well before COVID.

This often develops after a viral infection (for instance after infection with Epstein-Barr virus). So, understandably, there has been concern around the coronavirus potentially triggering chronic fatigue syndrome.

There are striking similarities between chronic fatigue syndrome and long COVID. Both involve debilitating fatigue, brain fog and/or muscle aches.

But at this stage, researchers are still untangling any link between post-COVID fatigue, long COVID and chronic fatigue syndrome.

For now, we know many people will have post-COVID fatigue but thankfully do not go on to develop long COVID or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Fatigued woman lying on sofa clutching her head

What helps me manage my fatigue?

Expect you or a loved one may develop post-COVID fatigue, regardless of how unwell you or they were during the actual infection.

Vaccines help reduce the risk of post-COVID fatigue by lowering the chance of catching COVID in the first place. Vaccinated people who do catch COVID are less likely to report fatigue and are less likely to develop long COVID.

However, vaccination is not 100% protective and there are plenty of fully vaccinated people who go on to develop longer term fatigue.

The evidence for what helps you recover from post-COVID fatigue is in its infancy. However, a few things do help:

1. pace yourself: adjust the return to normal activities to your energy levels. Choose your priorities and focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t

2. return to exercise gradually: a gradual return to exercise may help your recovery, but you may need some support about how to manage or avoid fatigue afterwards. Some therapists – occupational therapists, physiotherapists and exercise physiologists – specialise in this. So ask your GP for a recommendation

3. prioritise sleep: rather than feeling guilty about sleeping so much, remind yourself that while you sleep, your body conserves energy and heals. Disrupted sleep patterns are an unfortunate COVID symptom. Having a strict bedtime, while also resting when you feel tired during the day, is important

4. eat a range of nutritious foods: loss of smell, taste and appetite from COVID can make this tricky. However, try to view food as a way of fuelling your body with both energy and the micronutrients it needs to heal. Be careful not to spend a fortune on unproven “remedies” that often look good in small studies, but more robust research finds make little difference

5. monitor your fatigue: keep a diary to monitor your fatigue, and look for a gradual improvement. You will have good days and bad days, but overall there should be a slow trajectory towards recovery. If you are going backwards, get input from a health professional, such as your GP.

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Fatigue
  • Chronic fatigue
  • COVID-19
  • tiredness
  • Post-viral syndrome
  • Epstein-Barr virus

How Long Could Fatigue Last After COVID-19 Infection?

How Long Could Fatigue Last After COVID-19 Infection

Post-COVID-19 fatigue is more than just tiredness and can make you feel completely drained, exhausted, and generally unwell, which is common when your body is fighting a viral infection.

Fatigue usually lasts for 2-3 weeks after COVID-19 infection, although some people may experience fatigue for 12 weeks or more after the infection is gone.

Post-COVID-19 fatigue is more than just tiredness and can make you feel completely drained, exhausted, and generally unwell, which is common when your body is fighting a viral infection. You may also experience other symptoms such as:

  • Weakness
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Poor concentration
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Disorientation
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Although it may take time for fatigue to go away, you can ease symptoms with a few lifestyle changes.

7 tips for dealing with fatigue after COVID-19 infection

1. Go easy on yourself

Don’t try to rush to resume your normal activities. You may not have the energy to take care of everything you did before you got sick, and you may need to take more time off from work than you expected. Discuss the possibility of a phased return with your manager and avoid hurrying back to your regular routine.

2. Rest

Rest is a significant part of the recovery process from COVID-19 infection, allowing your body to heal faster. It’s also important to relax your mind and body, so minimize your exposure to TV and digital devices to only a few hours a day. Try calming techniques such as meditation, breathing, aromatherapy, and listening to music.

3. Sleep

Fatigue can make you sleepier than before, and it’s important to get 6-8 hours of quality sleep. Practice good sleep hygiene, such as:

  • Sleeping in a dark room
  • Avoiding caffeinateddrinks or foods before bed
  • Staying away from devices that emit blue light at least an hour before bedtime

4. Focus on good nutrition

Feeding your body with nutritious foods can help you recover faster and fight fatigue, so include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Limit intake of processed foods, and opt for whole grains over refined carbs. Since not drinking enough water can add to fatigue and irritability, stay hydrated with at least 8 glasses of water a day.

5. Move around slowly

While it may be tempting to stay in bed all day, try to get up and move around slowly several times a day.

6. Plan your activities

You may notice that some activities drain your energy more than others. Make a note of which ones to avoid, and which household or work tasks you can delegate to family members and coworkers. Don’t hesitate to ask for support.

7. Manage other conditions

COVID-19 infection can cause your blood sugar levels to go haywire or aggravate arthritis or other preexisting comorbid conditions. Be proactive in following up with your doctor and managing these conditions to facilitate your overall healing.

If you feel that your fatigue is worsening, contact your doctor.

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Medically Reviewed on 7/21/2022
References

Image Source: iStock Images

Post-COVID Conditions. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/long-term-effects/index.html

What Is COVID-19 Fatigue? https://www.webmd.com/lung/covid-fatigue#1

Sharma P, Bharti S, Garg I. Post COVID fatigue: Can we really ignore it? [published online ahead of print, 2021 Jun 23]. Indian J Tuberc. 2021.

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Fatigue can be described in various ways. Sometimes fatigue is described as feeling a lack of energy and motivation (both mental and physical). The causes of fatigue are generally related to a variety of conditions or diseases, for example, anemia, mono, medications, sleep problems, cancer, anxiety, heart disease, and drug abuse.Treatment of fatigue is generally directed toward the condition or disease that is causing the fatigue.

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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