COVID-19 Symptom: Fatigue
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
- COVID-19-related fatigue is a prevalent symptom that can persist for weeks or months
- The causes of COVID-19-related fatigue include the body’s immune response to the virus, decreased oxygen levels, and/or stress and anxiety
- Diagnostic tests may be ordered to rule out other potential causes of extreme fatigue
- Treatment includes rest, hydration, nutrition, exercise, stress management, and medication in some cases
Fatigue is a prevalent symptom of COVID-19, characterized by a persistent feeling of exhaustion, weakness, and low energy levels that do not improve with rest. COVID fatigue can persist for weeks or even months, causing significant impairment to an individual's daily life. This guide will examine the potential causes of COVID fatigue, describe how it can affect a person, and provide strategies for managing these symptoms.
What does COVID fatigue feel like?
Fatigue is a common symptom of COVID-19 and is characterized by a feeling of exhaustion, weakness, and lack of energy that persists even after rest. Studies have found that anywhere from 34-46% of those infected with the coronavirus report feeling fatigued. 1 2
If you have COVID fatigue, you may always feel tired, even if you haven't engaged in any physical activity. Other symptoms associated with COVID-related fatigue include brain fog, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems. These symptoms can persist after the initial infection has cleared, making it difficult to perform everyday tasks and can significantly impact a person's quality of life. 3
What causes COVID fatigue?
- Immune response to the virus. When your body encounters a pathogen like SARS-CoV-2, the immune system begins, producing cytokines which triggers inflammation and mobilizing immune cells to fight the infection. This immune response can be exhausting and may contribute to feelings of fatigue and malaise.
- Decreased oxygen. COVID-19 is known to cause damage to the lungs and other organs, leading to decreased oxygen levels in the blood. Low oxygen levels, or hypoxemia, can cause fatigue, weakness, and other symptoms.
- Psychological impact. The stress and anxiety of living through a global pandemic can be mentally and physically exhausting. The fear of getting sick, social isolation, and economic uncertainty can all contribute to feelings of fatigue and lethargy.
How long does COVID fatigue last after COVID-19?
The duration of COVID-19-related fatigue varies from person to person. You may recover from fatigue within a few weeks or experience symptoms lasting for several months. In rare cases, COVID-19-related fatigue can persist for up to a year or more, a condition commonly known as "long COVID". 2
How is COVID fatigue diagnosed?
COVID-19-related fatigue is usually diagnosed based on your symptoms and medical history. If you’re experiencing persistent fatigue, your doctor may ask questions about your symptoms, such as how long you have been experiencing fatigue and whether you have any other signs of COVID-19, such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath.
In some cases, your doctor may order some tests which can include: 6
- Blood tests. May be used to rule out anemia or other nutritional deficiencies that can cause fatigue.
- Chest X-rays. May be used to check for lung damage or other respiratory issues.
It’s important to note that fatigue is a common symptom of many conditions, and a diagnosis of COVID-19-related fatigue may only be made after ruling out other potential causes.
What else can cause fatigue?
Fatigue is a common symptom after an infection with any virus, as your body needs to recover from the inflammation caused by the virus. Apart from that, there are many other possible causes of fatigue. Sometimes, the reason for your tiredness may be obvious, such as: 7
- Sleeping too little
- Working too many hours
- Having a baby
- Emotional distress
In other cases, a health condition may be the underlying cause of your fatigue. Some possible causes may be: 7
- Iron deficiency
- Sleep apnoea
- Being underweight/overweight
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Side effects of medicines and cancer treatments
If your fatigue persists for more than 4 weeks, or if you’re experiencing other symptoms, you should see your doctor to find out what is causing the tiredness and what can be done.
How can fatigue after COVID-19 be treated?
The treatment of COVID-19-related fatigue depends on the symptoms' severity and duration. These measures may include: 2
- Rest. It's essential to give your body time to recover from the illness. This means getting plenty of sleep and avoiding strenuous physical activity.
- Hydration. Dehydration can worsen fatigue, so drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, is essential.
- Nutrition. A healthy, well-balanced diet can support the immune system and promote recovery.
- Exercise. While avoiding strenuous activity is crucial, light exercise like walking can help improve energy levels and reduce fatigue.
- Stress management. Stress can exacerbate fatigue, so finding ways to manage stress, such as meditation or therapy, can be beneficial.
In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage fatigue. These may include:
COVID-19-related fatigue can be a long-term symptom and may require ongoing treatment and management.
COVID-19 fatigue is a widespread symptom of the virus that can endure for weeks or even months and significantly impact your daily life. Although there’s no single treatment for COVID-19 fatigue, managing symptoms can be achieved through rest, hydration, nutrition, light exercise, stress management, and medication. If you are experiencing persistent fatigue, it’s crucial to consult your doctor to rule out other potential causes and create a personalized treatment plan.
Q: Why does COVID make you so tired?
A: COVID-19 can cause fatigue due to various factors, including the body's immune response to the virus, reduced oxygen levels, and the psychological impact of the pandemic. The virus triggers an inflammatory response in the body, which can lead to fatigue and other symptoms. Additionally, COVID-19 can affect the respiratory system, making it harder for the body to get the oxygen it needs, which can also contribute to feelings of fatigue.
Q: What does COVID fatigue feel like?
A: COVID fatigue refers to a persistent feeling of tiredness or exhaustion that can last for weeks or even months after being infected with COVID-19. It can manifest as a lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, muscle weakness, and overall malaise. Some people also report experiencing headaches, dizziness, and difficulty sleeping as part of their COVID fatigue symptoms.
Q: How can I get over COVID fatigue?
A: To get over COVID fatigue, prioritize rest and relaxation in your recovery, stay hydrated and maintain a healthy diet, and gradually incorporate light exercise into your routine. If your fatigue persists or worsens, consult your doctor for further evaluation and personalized treatment recommendations.
Q: How do you know if you have long COVID fatigue?
A: Long COVID fatigue is characterized by extreme tiredness and exhaustion that persists for weeks or even months after a COVID-19 infection. Some other common symptoms of long COVID fatigue include brain fog, difficulty concentrating, headaches, and muscle aches.
Q: Should I get tested for COVID if I feel tired?
Although fatigue is a common symptom of COVID-19, feeling tired alone is not necessarily a definitive sign of infection. However, if you have other symptoms, such as fever or cough, you should consider getting tested for COVID-19. Additionally, if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, you should get tested even if you are not experiencing symptoms.