Why do I always feel sick?
Everyone feels sick sometimes, but in some circumstances, a person can feel sick all or most of the time. This feeling can refer to nausea, catching colds often, or being run-down.
This article was originally published in Medical News Today on November 15, 2019
In other cases, there may be an underlying medical disorder.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of 2019, around 60 percent of American adults had at least one chronic or long-term condition, and 40 percent have two or more.
In this article originally written for Medical News Today, Jennifer Huizen looks at the causes, symptoms, and treatments for a person feeling sick all the time.
Causes, symptoms, and treatments
Below are some of the common reasons why someone might always feel sick, plus their symptoms, and how to treat each one.
Many people may not associate anxiety with feeling sick, but often it can make a person feel sick to their stomach.
A person with anxiety may feel nauseous, or they may find that they get sick more often because their anxiety weakens their immune responses.
Other symptoms of anxiety include:
- shortness of breath
- feeling dizzy
- increased heart rate
- shaking or trembling
- avoiding certain situations
It is normal for people to have some anxiety. When a person feels anxious continuously, and this gets in the way of daily life, they may wish to talk to a doctor about anxiety disorders.
If a person feels anxiety on most days for 6 months or more, they may be diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).
A person may have a specific anxiety disorder or a phobia if their anxiety is specific to certain situations, such as social contact or unhygienic places.
Anxiety and anxiety disorders are very treatable. Possible options include:
- Resolving the cause of anxiety, which may be lifestyle factors, relationships, drugs, or alcohol.
- Psychotherapy or talking therapies, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy (IPT).
- Talking to a doctor and taking medications, such as beta-blockers.
Experiencing stress here and there is completely normal, but continual stress can greatly impact the mind and body.
Extreme stress, such as that caused by grief, shock, or traumatic experiences can also affect people physically.
People with chronic or extreme stress can have many different symptoms, as stress affects the immune system, nervous system, hormones, and heart functioning.
Other symptoms of chronic stress can include:
- a lack of energy
- digestive problems, such as diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, nausea, and constipation
- insomnia, or difficulty sleeping
- muscle pain or stiffness
- more frequent infections, such as colds, flu, and urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- reduced desire to engage in social activities or settings
The only definite way to treat chronic stress is to address and change the underlying cause. However, several lifestyle habits can greatly reduce stress and its symptoms.
Many traditional and alternative therapies exist to help manage or alleviate stress.
Good ways for someone to treat their stress include:
- Resolving the sources of conflict that is causing their upsets.
- Doing regular exercise as often as they can.
- Spending a decent amount of time outdoors.
- Practicing exercises for mindfulness and stress release, such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and guided visualisation.
- Avoiding bringing job issues or unfinished work home, and avoiding taking home-related issues to work.
- Getting a stress-releasing hobby, especially one that promotes creativity, such as drawing, writing, painting, or music.
- Asking for support and understanding from family and friends.
- Seeking help from a mental health professional.
Lack of sleep
Proper, regular sleep is important for mental and physical health. When someone is chronically sleep-deprived, they may feel sick all the time.
Many chronic medical conditions can interfere with sleep, usually intensifying the symptoms of both conditions.
Common symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation, or a lack of adequate sleep, include:
- daytime sleepiness
- general fatigue
- difficulty concentrating or completing tasks
- irritability and anxiety
- more frequent infections and longer healing time
Common ways to improve sleep deprivation include:
- set a sleep and wake schedule, and stick to it, even on the weekends
- remove any sources of distraction from the bedroom, such as electronics
- seek treatment for conditions that hinder proper sleep, such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, anxiety, and chronic pain
- avoid energy drinks and too much caffeine
- relax before bed with yoga, meditation, a warm bath, or a book
Poor diet and dehydration
- chronic fatigue and weakness
- dizziness or light-headedness
- difficulty concentrating
- poor immune health and extended healing time
- weight loss
Recommendations for daily water intake differ, depending on a person’s age, sex, pregnancy status, and illness. It is often said that most people should drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water daily.
If a person suspects they are dehydrated, they should visit their doctor to find out the best treatments.
To treat and prevent malnutrition, people should eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in foods, including:
- whole grains
- whole fruits and vegetables
- pulses, such as dry beans, lentils, and chickpeas
- healthy fats, such as in fatty fishes, virgin olive oil, most nuts, whole eggs, avocados, and dark chocolate
Poor physical hygiene, especially oral, can cause a variety of symptoms that could make someone feel sick all of the time. Poor hygiene makes it easier for bacteria to grow and thrive, which can result in infection.
The skin is the body’s natural barrier to things that can cause infection, such as bacteria and viruses.
Washing the body, and keeping clothes and bedding clean can help to keep bacteria out, and keep natural, healthy bacterial communities in check.
People have a lot of blood vessels in their gums. This blood supply means that chronic, untreated gum infections can spread through the body. Severe gum disease has also been linked to several medical conditions.
Regular washing of the body, clothes, and bedding should help treat and prevent most infections related to poor hygiene. And practicing oral hygiene habits can help treat, and greatly reduce the likelihood of developing gum infections and disease.
Good oral hygiene habits include:
- brushing at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing regularly. Fluoride toothpaste is available for purchase online, alongside dental floss.
- having regular dental check-ups and cleanings
- quitting smoking or using tobacco products
- avoiding sugary foods and drinks
Alcohol, caffeine, drugs, or medications
Alcohol, caffeine, recreational drugs, and many prescription medications are known to interfere with sleep, which can lead to a general feeling of being unwell.
An overuse, or long-term use, of chemicals that act as stimulants or depressants, can cause certain mental and physical changes.
A person should avoid drinks, foods, and drugs with these chemicals in them, especially in the evening or before bedtime. It is important to remember that caffeine and sugar can have a strong effect on how a person feels.
When someone’s symptoms are caused by prescription medication, they should speak to their doctor to find an alternative.
Autoimmune conditions weaken the immune system and make it easier to develop infections, colds, and flu. This means that people with chronic immune conditions tend to feel sick more often and may take longer to recover from illnesses.
Common immune conditions that can make people feel sick all the time include:
- celiac disease
- inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- type 1 diabetes
- multiple sclerosis
- Graves’ disease
Autoimmune conditions cause many symptoms, including fatigue, rashes, insomnia, and gastrointestinal problems.
The only way to treat symptoms related to an autoimmune condition is to seek medical treatment and monitoring for the condition.
Exposure to infection
A person who has a lot of social contact with other people is exposed to things that cause infection, such as viruses and bacteria, more than other people.
People may be exposed to more infections if they:
- work with children
- work in the healthcare industry
- live at close quarters with other people, such as in dormitories
- travel a lot or use public transportation frequently
A person cannot always avoid social contact, though they can use the following techniques to reduce their risk of infection:
- frequent hand-washing
- covering the face when close to someone with a contagious illness
- using hand sanitisers.
People with anemia do not have enough hemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen, in their blood. When their tissues and cells do not get enough oxygen, they cannot function properly. This means that people with anemia tend to always feel under the weather.
Common symptoms of anemia include:
- fatigue or tiring easily
- difficulty concentrating
- shortness of breath
- pale skin
Often, the easiest way to treat anemia is to make dietary changes or to take iron supplements.
Foods rich in iron include:
- dark green, leafy vegetables
- beans, lentils, and legumes
- chicken, fish, pork, and beef
- nuts and seeds
- brown or wild rice
- fortified cereals and bread products
People who always feel sick are more likely to have to skip work or school, or they may be less able to perform day-to-day activities. This is especially true when a person has a chronic condition.
Chronic conditions can also cause feelings of anxiety and interfere with activities that are important to good health, such as proper sleep, exercise, and socialising.
Though the specific complications depend on the cause, a person who feels sick all the time, and whose symptoms do not improve, may develop depression, anxiety, or fatigue.
When to see a doctor
Anyone who feels sick for more than a week or two should seek medical attention. A doctor can figure out the cause of the sickness and provide treatment.
A doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes or therapies that can reduce symptoms.
It is also important to talk with a doctor about prolonged sickness so they can rule out or treat underlying medical conditions.
Feeling run down, getting sick often, or feeling nauseous always is often explained by a lack of sleep, poor diet, anxiety or stress. However, it could also be a sign of pregnancy or chronic illness.
If a person is unsure what is causing them to feel sick all the time, they should consult their doctor for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
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- Autoimmune diseases: What autoimmune diseases affect women, and what are their symptoms? (2017, April 28) https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/autoimmune-diseases
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- About chronic diseases. (2019, October 23) https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/index.htm
- Greist, J. H. (n.d.). Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/mental-health-disorders/anxiety-and-stress-related-disorders/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad
- Gum disease. (Feburary, 2018) https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/gum-disease/more-info
- Hunger and malnutrition. (2015, September) https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/hunger.html
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