Can Fatigue Be a Symptom of Diabetes?

You may feel tired due to many health conditions, including diabetes. Both mental and physical aspects of diabetes can cause fatigue.

This article will explore what fatigue looks like and why it might happen in a person with diabetes.

Fatigue is a symptom of diabetes

Tetra Images / Getty Images

What Is Fatigue?

Fatigue is more than sleepiness, an occasional lack of energy, or an uncontrollable need to sleep. When you have fatigue, it may appear as an overwhelming lack of physical and emotional energy or motivation. This lack of energy can often affect your ability to carry out daily tasks.

Common symptoms of fatigue include:

  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Lack of energy
  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of motivation
  • Difficulty concentrating

For some people, fatigue can also cause headaches, mood changes, or even slowed mental or physical responses. There are many causes of fatigue, including medical issues, lifestyle changes, and stress.

Medical Issues

Some medical issues that can lead to problems with fatigue include:

  • Metabolic conditions or diseases
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Infections
  • Heart problems
  • Mental disorders
  • Vitamin or nutrient deficiencies
  • Certain medications

Lifestyle Causes

Aside from medical conditions, many factors in your daily life can cause or contribute to fatigue. These include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor diet
  • Drugs or alcohol
  • Lack of exercise

Stress and Other Conditions

Fatigue can be a symptom of anxiety and depression or other mental health conditions. It can also be a result of stress, which can impact the body in countless ways. Common stressors include:

  • Workplace problems
  • Changes in personal relationships
  • Mental health conditions
  • Financial strain
  • Housing problems

Is Fatigue a Symptom of Diabetes?

Several conditions, including diabetes, can cause fatigue. Fatigue is one of the more common symptoms of type 1 and type 2 diabetes—even if you've achieved control of your blood glucose level.

Several factors are thought to contribute to fatigue when you have diabetes. Chemical and energy changes in the body triggered by diabetes can alter the balance of electrolytes like calcium and potassium. Both of these chemicals are crucial to your body's normal function and help drive the production of adenosine 5′-triphosphate (ATP)—the body's primary energy source in every living cell. When ATP is in short supply, some researchers suggest that fatigue may occur as a result.

Other contributors to fatigue in people with diabetes have more to do with lifestyle than physical factors. Managing diabetes—in terms of lifestyle and mental and emotional health—can take a significant toll. Living with diabetes can increase stress and fatigue and requires many diet and lifestyle changes that can be difficult to cope with.

Treatments and Management of Fatigue

There are a few things you can do to combat diabetes-related fatigue. The first is to take care of your overall health and control your blood sugar levels. This can include:

  • Watching your diet
  • Taking medications to control your blood sugar
  • Regularly seeing your healthcare provider
  • Limiting stress
  • Staying fit and active
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Asking for help when you need it

Additional behavioral therapies that can help combat fatigue include:

  • Diabetes education and counseling
  • Sleep hygiene
  • Weight management
  • Working on coping skills
  • Establishing a support system

If fatigue persists, talk to your healthcare provider about medications that may offer some relief. Prescription medications to treat stress or depression have been effective for some people with diabetes-related fatigue.

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

It's always a good idea to have regular follow-up care with your healthcare provider to discuss ongoing treatment and prevent complications. In some cases, fatigue may result from a more severe diabetes complication, such as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). DKA is a serious complication that can lead to excessively high blood sugar.

If you enter a state of DKA, sugar cannot enter your cells and provide energy, so your liver starts to break down stored fat to use for energy. This process releases a chemical called ketones into your body, and too much of this chemical, released too quickly, can cause symptoms such as:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Dry mouth
  • Fruity-smelling breath
  • Fast, deep breathing
  • Severe fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches

DKA can occur if you have diabetes and you've been sick or have missed doses of your diabetes medications; it may require hospitalization. Talk to your healthcare provider if you notice changes in your overall condition or if you see high blood glucose readings at home.

If you have diabetes and become dizzy, light-headed, confused, or lose consciousness, you should seek immediate medical treatment.

Summary

Fatigue is a common symptom of diabetes, but it can also occur with many other medical conditions. Talk to your healthcare provider if your fatigue affects your daily activities or appears alongside a diagnosed medical condition.

A Word From Verywell

Living with chronic diseases, like diabetes, can be challenging and exhausting. Poor blood sugar control and other diabetes complications can also increase your fatigue. If you have diabetes and have trouble carrying out daily tasks due to fatigue, speak to your healthcare provider about treatments, medications, and lifestyle changes that can help.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why does diabetes make you tired?

    Diabetes takes a physical and mental toll on your body. Blood sugar plays an essential role in your body's metabolism and energy production, and an imbalance in your blood glucose can have body-wide fallout.

  • What are some ways to combat diabetes fatigue?

    Reducing stress, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and controlling blood glucose are all things that can help boost your energy level if you have diabetes.

  • Do people with diabetes feel more tired after eating?

    Blood glucose levels directly affect your energy level and how you feel. If you feel particularly tired or unwell after eating, talk to the healthcare provider about checking your blood glucose level. Changes may need to be made to your treatment regimen.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kalra S, Sahay R. Diabetes fatigue syndromeDiabetes Ther. 2018;9(4):1421-1429. doi:10.1007/s13300-018-0453-x

  2. The Diabetes Council. Diabetes and fatigue: everything you need to know.

  3. Hidayat BF, Sukartini T, Kusumaningrum T. A systematic review of fatigue in type 2 diabetes. Jurnal Ners. 2020;15(2). doi:10.20473/jn.v15i1Sp.20520

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetic ketoacidosis.

By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
 Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.