Fatigue in children

FATIGUE IN CHILDREN

Fatigue is excessive tiredness. It is normal for a child to experience tiredness from time to time, especially when they have growth spurts. A simple nap or rest should help. However, if despite rest a child has an overwhelming need to sleep, it could indicate a problem.

Interestingly, children don’t usually complain of tiredness during the day, for fear of missing out on fun, even when they do feel a little tired. Instead, such concerns are typically noticed by the child’s parents or teachers. Therefore when a child does report tiredness or show obvious signs of fatigue, such situations should be explored further.

Possible causes:

  • Allergies – may cause prolonged or significant tiredness. Gluten intolerance or coeliac disease may cause chronic fatigue in children.
  • Depression – can be very emotionally and physically overwhelming to a child and depression in children often presents as tiredness.
  • Poor nutritional intake – Children may feel tired when they get hungry between meals, especially if their meals aren’t of sufficient nutritional value. A child needs a well-balanced diet rich in wholegrains and protein, whilst avoiding excess sugar and processed food. Healthy snacks are recommended between meals
  • Vitamin deficiency – e.g. vitamin d deficiency. Vitamin supplements are recommended for children in the UK, aged six months to five years.
  • Poor sleep – Children generally need at least ten hours of sleep to function well during the day. A good night’s sleep can prevent daytime tiredness for many kids.
  • Excessive exercise – a lot of children are very keen on sport but if this becomes excessive it may be that they are burning too many of the calories they consume.
  • Anaemia – when there aren’t enough healthy red cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. Tiredness can be a symptom of anaemia.
  • Infection (bacterial or viral) – the fatigue goes away when the infection clears.
  • Medication – e.g. antihistamines, cough medicines, painkillers, antidepressants.
  • Obesity, enlarged tonsils or adenoids – Obstructive sleep apnoea may result and thus cause interrupted sleep, further resulting in fatigue.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome – usually caused by Glandular fever. Tiredness is the most common symptom.
  • Other diseases – e.g. asthma, hypothyroidism, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, cancer

When to act:

When fatigue begins to disrupt your child’s normal routine, activities, education and quality of life, it is important to understand why he is so tired. In rare cases tiredness, combined with other symptoms e.g. weight loss, nosebleeds, visual changes, swellings, headaches, pain could occur due to childhood cancers. Most of the time however tiredness in children is caused by diet and lifestyle, but further evaluation should be undertaken.

What to do if your child experiences fatigue:

See a doctor for a full assessment of your child’s symptoms, examination and investigations to pinpoint the cause for the tiredness. A quick diagnosis can then be made and effective treatment can be commenced.