Children are known to be energetic. After a long day at school and playing with their friends and involving themselves in sports and other activities, it is not uncommon that they return home complaining of being tired. This is normal and is to be expected. But if your child complains of being excessively tired or complains continually of fatigue, that is unusual. In fact, in younger children, fatigue or listlessness can be one of the earliest signs of a serious medical problem.
Causes of fatigue:
According to Web MD, fatigue is defined as feeling tired, exhausted or lacking in energy. It is not a disease itself, but it generally is a symptom of a disease or medical condition.There are many factors which can lead to symptoms of tiredness and fatigue in your child and it is important that you are aware of these. Let’s talk a look at some of the possible causes of fatigue on children.
Did you realize that poor nutrition can lead to fatigue? What your child has been eating has a lot do with how much energy they have and their overall well-being. If they are not eating a balanced diet, chances are they are not receiving enough vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to keep them functioning adequately through the day. Young children often eat junk food which contains sugars and fats which can seem to initially give them energy but actually leads to fatigue. Keep a close eye on their dietary intake.
Depression is a frequent cause of fatigue in children. According to Uplift Program, preschoolers are the fastest-growing age group for antidepressants and at least four percent of preschoolers have been diagnosed with clinical depression. Fatigue and loss of energy are among the signs of depression. In children, their depression can be manifested by behavioral changes such as acting out, although they might also display sadness and mood changes similar to that seen in adult depression.
Sleep apnea, also known as obstructive sleep apnea, is another possible cause of fatigue. Sleep apnea is not just a condition seen in older people. It can also occur in children. Irritability, learning problems, confusion upon awakening, and unrefreshed sleep can all be signs of sleep apnea and these symptoms compounded can lead to fatigue. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, this is a serious medical condition that can lead to other health problems in addition to behavioral problems if left untreated.
Lack of sleep
Lack of sleep can also lead to fatigue. Infants do a lot of sleeping, up to 14 or more hours per day. Children in grade school up to twelve years of age need about 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night. Teenagers can get away with less, about nine hours of sleep per night. Children need to go to bed at a reasonable hour and certainly this is something you can enforce. Children who are not sleeping well may awaken feeling sluggish and this can cause them to have fatigue and decreased ability to concentrate during the day.
An anemic child can have a considerable amount of fatigue. According to Keep Kids Healthy, low blood iron levels are the most common cause of anemia in children. When the child’s blood iron is low, they can become tired because of the limited amount of hemoglobin in the bloodstream. Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein. It is found in red blood cells and is needed to carry oxygen throughout the body. When the body is lacking or deficient in iron, one symptom that often accompanies this condition is fatigue.
Excessive consumption of caffeine can cause fatigue. Giving young children soda pop to drink is very common in our society but it is a dangerous practice. Caffeine is a drug, an addictive stimulant, and young children as well as teenagers will have side effects from it. The American Psychological Association reports that children today drink twice as much soda as they did 20 years ago. Some of the side effects of caffeine include hyperactivity, headaches and sleeplessness. These can affect your child’s performance in school and can lead to daytime fatigue.
Some children are born with problems of heart failure. This is a condition in which the child’s heart does not pump enough blood through the body to meet its needs. According to the Children’s Medical Center, many conditions can be responsible for this including congenital defects, heart valve disease, irregular heart rhythms, infections, chronic lung disease and anemia. Since the body is not receiving enough oxygenated blood, it can cause many symptoms, including fatigue and low energy.
Kid’s Health reminds us that stress is not just something related to adults. Children too are subjected to stress in their environment. Stressors may be from problems within the family, from school or from their peers. Some children struggle with the demands placed on them. This may cause them to experience symptoms such as restlessness, sleeplessness and fatigue. In an article by Novelle Ruffin, PhD, at Virginia Tech, we are reminded that both negative and positive events can cause stress.
Children are prone to infection. It is not unusual for a child, for example, to have up to eight colds per year. According to Kids’ Health, viral infections such as upper respiratory infections are the number one reasons for missing school and for trips to the doctor. An article by Children’s Hospital Boston states, fatigue and lethargy may be an early sign of infection.
When to be concerned
If you have further questions or concerns, your child’s pediatrician can certainly give you more information on any of the above medical conditions. The main thing you need to remember is to watch your child closely. Children show fatigue in different ways based on their age. As a parent, you are the one most familiar with the way your child normally behaves. Behavioral changes are usually the first sign of a problem. For example, infants, who cannot verbalize how they feel usually display their fatigue as irritability and excessive crying. Even in older children, sometimes it is hard for them to express themselves in regards to fatigue, thus their fatigue is often interpreted as an attitude problem or being lazy. Older children might display a change in their attitude or lose interest in their school activities and studies. Sleeping during the day might also be a red flag as well as complaints of headaches. Whenever you notice changes in your child and are seeing problems of excessive fatigue, regardless of their age, report it to their pediatrician immediately.
Net Doctor: “Fatigue”
Web MD: “Weakness and fatigue”
Mother Nature: “Fatigue: Tips to recharge the battery”
EduBook: “Causes of extreme fatigue in children”
Children’s Hospital Boston: “Chronic fatigue”
Virginia Tech: “Children and Stress: Caring Strategies to Guide Children”
Children’s Medical Center: “Heart failure”