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SURVEY RESULTS: Attitudes About Fatigue

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Last month the editors of ProHealth conducted a survey on attitudes about fatigue. The results are now in.

Fatigue is one of the primary symptoms associated with illness. But for those with chronic illnesses, fatigue can seriously disrupt day-to-day living and cause strain on personal and familial relationships.

An even greater problem is the fact that everyone experiences some level of fatigue as a result of exertion and, as a consequence, family, friends, and even physicians may not be aware of the extent to which the fatigue associated with long-term illness can affect an individual.

Following are some of the enlightening responses to our survey.

Who took the survey?

The majority of those who took the survey had received a diagnosis of fibromyalgia or ME/CFS, or both. Numerous other conditions and diseases were also reported, including Sjogren's, MTHFR mutation, multiple chemical senstivities, CRPS, West Nile virus, chronic migraines, POTS, autoimmune diseases, interstitial cystitis, adrenal adenomas, degenerative disc disease, and various neurological conditions.

The overwhelming majority of the repondents consisted of women (97%), with most reporting fatigue in the severe range (8-10). The broad range of conditions and the severity of fatigue indicate that fatigue is a serious problem for people with a variety of illnesses.

Attributions and Family Support

The majority of respondents attributed their fatigue to purely physical causes (48%). None of the respondents believed their fatigue was purely psychological. However, a little under half (40%) believed their fatigue to be due to a combination of physical and psychological factors. 

Most of the respondents (70%) reported that their families accepted and accommodated to their fatigue, either all the time or some of the time.

Friends and Physicians

Perhaps not surpringly, friends and physicians scored lower on support than family members. But equally as telling was the fact that nearly 30% of the respondents reported that they did not inform friends that they were fatigued. Roughly the same percent (40%) reported that their physician was sometimes understanding, but there was a much greater likelohood of reporting fatigue to physicians than to friends.

Social attitudes

The most common strategy for dealing with social situations was avoidance. More than half of the respondents reported that they avoided social situations. There were a variety of other commonly used strategies, including trying to keep up, and giving the appearance of not being fatigued ("faking it"), indicating that each person used multiple strategies. The least common strategy was withdrawing and resting.  

In keeping with strategies such as avoidance, trying to keep up, and faking it, most respondents reported that they were worried others might think they were lazy (69%), uninterested or uncaring, or hypochondriac (51%). What is clear from these figures is that respondents suffering from fatigue feel judged. Given the very small number of men who participated in the survey (3%) it is not likely that there is a gender gap, either in the strategies used by people who suffer from fatigue, or how they feel they are perceived by others.


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