What Is Neuro Fatigue?

what-is-neuro-fatigue

October 04, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Krupa Pandey, M.D.

We all know what it feels like to be physically fatigued: a sensation of feeling tired and not having enough energy to move our muscles or body in the way we want after a period of intense exercise or other activity. Unlike physical fatigue, mental fatigue may not improve with a brief period of rest, and it is unrelated to the amount of physical activity an individual performs.

“Mental fatigue, also known as neuro fatigue, is a common phenomenon in patients who have a neurological illness and is very different from physical fatigue. Most people have no idea it exists unless they’ve experienced it personally or know someone who has gone through the same thing,” says Krupa Shah Pandey, M.D., director of the MS Center at Hackensack University Medical Center and assistant professor of neurology at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine.

What Causes Neuro Fatigue?

The most important step in recognizing mental fatigue is to rule out secondary causes: depression, extreme stress, medications, other medical illnesses and, most importantly, poor sleep. “Our brain uses many different pathways to coordinate and carry out our day-to-day activities,” Dr. Pandey says. “If we have a neurological disorder that affects the function of our brain, the circuits that keep us awake are affected, which can overtax an already challenged system.”

Scientists are still investigating the different causes of what makes someone at higher risk for mental fatigue after a neurological condition than others. What is well known is mental fatigue can be overwhelming, interfere with personal, social and work life, and even stop those who have it in their tracks.

Who Experiences Neuro Fatigue?

Mental fatigue goes beyond the ordinary fatigue we all deal with at some point. It strikes those with neurologic conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), stroke and infections that have impacted the neurological system. “Most neurological conditions have very high incidences of mental fatigue. In MS, it can occur in up to 80 percent of patients and even be the presenting feature,” Dr. Pandey says.

Treatment and Prevention

Easing mental fatigue can be approached from two angles: treating the underlying disease so it doesn’t get worse and treating the symptom of fatigue itself. Removing any secondary causes that can contribute to fatigue is also important. Your doctor will know what procedures and tests to order to evaluate you for depression, thyroid disease and sleep disorders.

Fatigue-preventing measures can include:

  • Energy management strategies (being aware of how much physical and mental energy it takes to go about your day and making adjustments where possible to conserve energy)
  • Ranking the importance of planned activities and carrying out more pressing ones first
  • Alternating between “heavy” and “light” tasks
  • Using cooling devices and scheduling activities during cooler parts of the day
  • Breaking tasks into stages
  • Pacing yourself
  • Exercise
  • Getting a good night’s rest
  • Eating a well-balanced diet that avoids processed foods
  • Promoting an environment that reduces stress via mindfulness training

Next Steps & Resources:


The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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