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Fatigue (Tiredness) In Children: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment

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Fatigue in children is often caused due to excessive physical activity or lack of sleep. However, persistent or chronic fatigue syndrome in children can be due to underlying medical conditions.

Children are full of energy and are eager to try new things and explore the world during childhood. So, if they are constantly fatigued, dull, or lacking enthusiasm, it may not be a good sign.

Read this post to understand the various causes, risks and complications, and treatment options for fatigue in children.

Symptoms Of Fatigue In Children

It can be challenging to identify chronic fatigue symptoms in children as most of them may seem subtle before they become intense and may differ from those that usually show up in adults. Here are a few common signs of fatigue in children (1) (2).

  1. Inability to get out of bed and participate in daily activities.
  1. Sleep issues – the child will either have trouble falling or staying asleep or feel weak even after sleeping
  1. Post-exertional malaise (PEM), where the symptoms worsen after minor physical or mental exertion. It usually starts 12 to 48 hours post the activity and might last for days or even weeks.
  1. Dizzy feeling after standing for long hours of sitting in an upright position
  1. Cognitive difficulties and memory problems
  1. Recurrent headaches and sore throat
  1. Pains in the joints, body, and muscles
  1. Poor performance in academics and extracurricular activities.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, it is important to know the cause. Although external factors trigger fatigue in most cases, sometimes, it can be due to a medical condition. Either way, it is important to get to the root of the cause. Read the next section to know about some of the possible causes of fatigue in children.

Causes Of Fatigue In Children

Here are some of the possible causes of chronic fatigue in children.

1. Overstimulation

This is the most common reason for fatigue in children. If your child has indulged in excess physical activity, they might appear tired and fatigued for a few days. Sometimes, a stressful and long day at school may also cause fatigue in children. This is common and may resolve on its own. Fatigue due to overstimulation is often characterized by fuzziness, clumsiness, lethargy, sleepiness, and irritation.

2. Dehydration

About 60% of the body is made up of water, and it is one of the important components required for the smooth functioning of the body. Water is also the major constituent of every cell and helps transport oxygen, nutrients, and waste products. Our body loses water when we breathe, sweat, and urinate. Chronic dehydration can cause fatigue and dizziness in children.

If your child complains about headaches, tiredness, and light-headedness, it could be due to dehydration (3).

3. Malnutrition

Deficiency in nutrients such as iron, B12, and vitamins may also result in fatigue in children. The leading causes of malnutrition are poor diet, drug modalities, infections, etc. Besides fatigue, the other symptoms of malnutrition include weight loss, lethargy, loss of appetite, loss of hair, pale skin, and brittle nails.

It is important to identify the signs early on as malnutrition in children can cause severe consequences in the long-term (4).

4. Sleep disorders

Fatigue in children can also be caused by stress, airway restrictions, medications, and other medical conditions associated with sleep disorders such as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis,asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and anemia.

Poor sleep can result in fatigue, daytime drowsiness, absenteeism, and poor academic performance. If your child feels constant fatigue, check if it is due to lack of sleep (5).

5. Infectious mononucleosis (IM)

Fatigue is one of the main symptoms of infectious mononucleosis, which is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It belongs to the herpes family and is transmitted through saliva. IM often puts children at the risk of developing chronic fatigue syndrome and physical and cognitive problems (6).

6. Congenital heart diseases

Children born with heart issues may exhibit chronic fatigue. One of the rare heart conditions seen in children is pediatric cardiomyopathy, which can lead to a weakened ability of the heart to pump blood, fatigue, heart block, and irregular heartbeats, shortness of breath, chest pain, swelling of legs, and episodes of fainting (7).

7. Depression

Depression in children and adolescents is often overlooked and taken for typical teenager or child behavior. However, children are susceptible to depression just like adults.

If the symptoms are left untreated, they might result in long-term consequences. Some common signs of depression include loss of interest, extreme fatigue, social withdrawal, concentration difficulties, loss of appetite, and sleep disorders (8).

Risks And Complications Of Fatigue In Children

Children with symptoms of allergies, malnutrition, or underlying medical issues are at a higher risk of developing fatigue.

Fatigue causes not just physical problems but also mental and behavioral problems in children. The following are some of the complications of fatigue.

  • Decline in working memory
  • Impaired judgment
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Slower growth
  • Deficiency in cognitive and problem-solving skills

Diagnosis Of Fatigue In Children

The doctor might do a physical examination to determine nutrition deficiency or anemia. They may also ask you questions about your child’s medical history, medications taken, and allergies. If needed, blood and urine tests might be prescribed.

Treatment For Fatigue In Children

Fatigue in children can be treated once the underlying cause is addressed. Here are some common treatment options for fatigue in children.

  1. If your child has had excess physical activity during the day, encourage them to take adequate rest for a couple of days.
  1. If the school projects are making them tired, give them time during the weekends to do things they enjoy.
  1. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends these water intake levels for children (9).
AgeGenderWater requirement/day
4–8 yearsBoys and girls1.7L
9–13 yearsBoys2.4L
Girls2.1L
14–18 yearsBoys3.3L
Girls2.3L

Make sure your child stays hydrated throughout the day. Keep track of their water consumption and remind them to have water. You may also give them fruit juices to keep them hydrated. Increase the quantity on days when your child takes part in sports or strenuous activities.

  1. If your child is diagnosed with anemia or malnutrition, make sure you include fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and proteins in their diet. Take your doctor’s help to understand your child’s nutritional requirements and design a diet plan that is apt for their age.
  1. Establish a sleeping routine to help your child overcome any sleep disorders. Make sure your child does not use gadgets at least two hours before bedtime, and ensure they have their meals two hours before bedtime. You may also instruct them to take a bath before going to bed. All these activities would help them relax and sleep better.
  1. If your child suffers from any infections, follow your doctor’s advice. You may also make them take adequate rest, eat a healthy diet, and drink plenty of fluids.
  1. Make sure your child spends some time under the sun playing or engaging in some physical activity as this would help their bodies to absorb vitamin D.
  1. In the case of chronic conditions, your doctor may prescribe physiotherapy, which might help lessen fatigue.

Fatigue is a symptom of an underlying cause, so it is important to address it. Constant fatigue may cause children to become lethargic and depressed. So, make sure you identify the signs of fatigue early on and get the necessary treatment.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Treating the Most Disruptive Symptoms First and Preventing Worsening of Symptoms; Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
2. Leonard A. Jason, Kristen Barker, and Abigail Brown; Pediatric Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; HHS Author Manuscripts (2012).
3. David Benton; Dehydration Influences Mood and Cognition: A Plausible Hypothesis?; Nutrients (2011).
4. Alamgir Khan et al.; Causes, sign, and symptoms of malnutrition among the children; Journal of Nutrition and Human Health (2017).
5. Amy S. Lewandowski et al.; Sleep Problems in Children and Adolescents with Common Medical Conditions; HHS Author Manuscripts (2011).
6. Leonard A. Jason et al.; Predictors of post-infectious chronic fatigue syndrome in adolescents; Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine (2014).
7. Pediatric Cardiomyopathy; National Organization for Rare Diseases
8. Childhood Depression; Anxiety & Depression Association of America
9. Water Requirements, Impinging Factors, and Recommended Intakes; World Health Organization