Is Fatigue a Sign of COVID-19?

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

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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