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Research report
7 December 2016

Choosing Wisely - Tests for fatigue

Research into fatigue has shown that most symptoms are not related to a medical condition.

Fatigue is a symptom that can have many causes, and research into fatigue has shown that most of them are not related to a medical condition.

Facts about fatigue

  • There is no test specific for fatigue.
  • Undiagnosed medical problems are not a common cause of fatigue.
  • In some cases of fatigue, further tests may be appropriate.

Your doctor will use information from your medical history and from any examinations they conduct to decide what further steps may need to be taken to help treat or manage your fatigue.

There is no test specific for fatigue, only tests that may help identify a physical cause. The decision about whether to have a test and what type of test to have will depend on your individual situation.

Studies have shown that a medical explanation is found in only about 4% of people with fatigue who go on to have some form of testing. So, for every 100 people who are recommended for some form of test by their doctor to help find out why they are experiencing fatigue, a medical condition will be identified in only about four cases.

It is important to understand that medical tests are not always accurate in their diagnosis. Sometimes they pick up a problem when there isn’t one (this is called a false positive), and sometimes they can miss a diagnosis (this is called a false negative).

So you may want to discuss the pros and cons of medical tests with your doctor.

Further information

Tiredness and fatigue: Health Navigator New Zealand

It’s OK to ask questions
If you have questions about your symptoms or the medicines managing your symptoms, speak with your health professional.

You can also download this information as a pdf (321 KB).

Adapted from NPS MedicineWise, Are there medical tests for fatigue? Reasonable care is taken to provide accurate information at the time of creation. This information is not intended as a substitute for medical advice and should not be exclusively relied on to manage or diagnose a medical condition. NPS MedicineWise and Choosing Wisely New Zealand do not assume any responsibility or liability arising from any error or omission or from reliance on any information in this resource.

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Choosing Wisely

This article is part of our content on Choosing Wisely, a campaign encouraging a change in thinking by health professionals and consumers to avoid unnecessary medical intervention.

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