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    Fatigue is a main or secondary reason for 10-20% of all consultations with a primary care physician. This review is based on pertinent publications retrieved by a comprehensive, selective literature search on the epidemiology, etiology, and diagnostic evaluation of fatigue as a leading symptom of disease, as well as on the treatment of its common causes. Information was also included from the literature search we conducted for the German clinical practice guideline on fatigue that was issued by the German College of General Practitioners and Family Physicians (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Allgemeinmedizin und Familienmedizin, DEGAM). Fatigue can be due to any of a broad spectrum of diseases, including decompensation of already known conditions. Sleep disorders and sleep-related disorders of breathing, depression (18.5%), and excessive psychosocial stress are the most common causes of persistent fatigue. Previously undiagnosed cancer is a rare cause, accounting for only 0.6% of cases (95% confidence interval [0.3; 1.3]). Anemia and other organic causes are rare as well (4.3% [2.7; 6.7]). Investigations beyond the history, physical examination, and simple laboratory tests are needed only in the presence of additional symptoms or findings. If the diagnosis remains unclear, watchful waiting and regularly scheduled follow-up help prevent an excessive focus on somatic causes, leading to overdiagnosis. Irrespective of specific causes, psychoeducative and psychotherapeutic approaches should be discussed with the patient, as well as an individually adapted exercise program. The work-up of fatigue as a chief complaint should be guided by investigating common and/or potentially dangerous disorders. Since the latter are rare, an exclusively somatic focus should be avoided in order to prevent overdiagnosis.


    Peter Maisel, Erika Baum, Norbert Donner-Banzhoff. Fatigue as the Chief Complaint–Epidemiology, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment. Deutsches Arzteblatt international. 2021 Aug 23;118(33-34):566-576

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    PMID: 34196270

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