Do you feel weak or tired — sometimes to the point of exhaustion — much of the time? If so, you’re not alone. Chronic fatigue accounts for more than 10 million visits to family doctors every year.
Chronic fatigue has many causes, including illnesses such as anemia and multiple sclerosis as well as depression and other psychiatric disorders. But it’s also often a side effect of drugs previously prescribed for other conditions.
Could one or more of the medications you’re taking be making you feel listless or lethargic? Read below to learn about the major classes of drugs that can cause chronic fatigue. If you suspect that your symptoms might be linked to a medication you’re taking, talk to your doctor or health care provider right away. It’s important that you do not discontinue them on your own.
1. Blood pressure medications
Why they’re prescribed: All blood pressure medications — and there are at least eight categories of them — are used to lower the pressure inside blood vessels, so the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood throughout the body.
Top-selling blood-pressure medications include lisinopril (Prinivil, Zestril), an ACE inhibitor; amlodipine (Norvasc), a calcium channel blocker; hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ and various other brand names), a thiazide diuretic; furosemide (Lasix), a loop diuretic; and metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol), a beta blocker. Fatigue is also one of the most common side effects that occurs with aliskiren (Tekturna, Tekturna HCT), which belongs to a newer class of drugs called renin inhibitors.
How they can cause fatigue: Blood-pressure medications may slow down the pumping action of the heart as well as depress the entire central nervous system, or, in the case of diuretics, deplete electrolytes that the body needs.
2. Statins and fibrates
Why they’re prescribed: Statins and fibrates are used to treat high cholesterol. The top-selling statins are atorvastatin (Lipitor), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor); the top-selling fibrate is fenofibrate (Tricor).
How they can cause fatigue: Studies show that statins stop the production of satellite cells that give rise to muscle tissue, stopping muscle growth. Some researchers have also suggested that statins interfere with the production of energy in cells in the same way that they interfere with the production of cholesterol.
3. Proton pump inhibitors
Why they’re prescribed: Proton pump inhibitors are used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and other similar disorders. More than 20 million Americans take prescription PPIs, including esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec) and pantoprazole (Protonix), some of which are available over the counter.
How they can cause fatigue: Patients who take PPIs for as little as three months are at risk of low blood levels of magnesium, which can cause loss of appetite, fatigue and weakness, among other symptoms.
Why they’re prescribed: Benzodiazepines, commonly known as tranquilizers, are used to treat a variety of anxiety disorders, agitation and muscle spasms, and to prevent seizures. Because benzodiazepines have a sedative/hypnotic effect, they are sometimes used to treat insomnia and the anxiety component of depression.
Commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan) and temazepam (Restoril).
How they can cause fatigue: Benzodiazepines can cause sedation and fatigue by dampening activity in key parts of the central nervous system (CNS). People who take a benzodiazepine for more than two or three weeks may develop a tolerance to the drug, and over time may need to take increasing doses to achieve the same effect, only worsening their fatigue. Long-term effects also may include muscle weakness.