Have you ever asked yourself “why am I always so tired?” Maybe you try to blame it on a busy home or an overwhelming career. But what if your exhaustion is the result of a more serious medical condition?
Everyone gets tired – that’s just part of being human. But if you’ve already tried cutting back on caffeine and trimming your social calendar, maybe its time to seek professional help. Feeling sleepy is normal. Serious fatigue is not. And, it might be your body’s way of telling you something isn’t quite right.
1. Thyroid Dysfunction
When your thyroid is out of whack, you’re likely to feel wiped out. Your thyroid is a small gland located in the front of your neck. It helps take iodine (found in many foods) and convert it into thyroid hormones. Your thyroid makes two hormones: T3 and T4. These hormones regulate digestion, increase metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and even support brain function.
Hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone) causes weight gain, brain fog, excessively dry skin, muscle aches and severe fatigue. Approximately 4 out of 5 people with hypothyroidism report chronic exhaustion. Hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone) causes exhaustion and weakness, first noticed in the thighs and calves. It also leads to unexplained weight loss, loss of menstruation and excessive thirst. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, talk to your doctor – thyroid dysfunction is easily diagnosed with a blood test.
Diabetes affects nearly 20 million Americans. It is a lifelong disease revolving around insulin – a hormone released by the pancreas to regulate the amount of glucose (or sugar) in the bloodstream. After you eat, your pancreas will release insulin to push sugar into body cells. These cells use the sugar for energy. People with diabetes either don’t make enough insulin or their body’s cells become resistant to it. The body can’t use glucose properly, causing sugar to build up in the blood. Without energy to keep the body fueled, exhaustion is often the first warning sign of developing diabetes.
Aside from fatigue, diabetes causes weight fluctuations, excessive thirst, irritability, recurrent yeast infections and blurred vision. The most common test for diabetes is called a “fasting plasma glucose test.” It measures the amount of sugar in your blood after fasting for 8 hours. If this level is high, your doctor will help you formulate a plan for getting your blood sugar levels under control.
Depression is a serious medical disorder that negatively affects the way you feel, think and act. It is more than just “feeling blue,” and can affect sleeping patterns, eating patterns and social interaction. Depression is experienced differently by different people, but fatigue tends to be a universal symptom.
Depression causes problems with memory and concentration, insomnia, exhaustion, social withdrawal, and apathy – lack of interest or enthusiasm for things that perviously brought joy. When left untreated, these symptoms can spiral into hopelessness with thoughts of death or suicide. If these symptoms begin to interfere with daily life, it is time to see a professional. Although there are no concrete tests for the diagnosis of depression, it can be identified through a serious of mental health questions posed by your doctor.
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Anemia occurs when your body lacks the necessary amount of red blood cells to carry oxygen to your organs. Blood is made up of two parts: a liquid called plasma and cells, like red blood cells (RBCs), platelets and white blood cells. When the body doesn’t make enough RBCs, oxygen delivery to every tissue in the body is compromised. Anemia is most commonly caused by an iron deficiency, but it can also arise after blood loss, internal bleeding, or chronic disease, like cancer or kidney failure.
Aside from fatigue, anemia can cause weakness, shortness of breath, lightheadedness or fainting, and heart palpitations. If you’re anemic, a simple blood test called a complete blood count (or CBC) will help your doctor make a diagnosis.
5. Leaky Gut Syndrome
Gut bacteria is intimately linked with the immune system and significantly affects the brain. This unique connection is called the “gut-brain axis.” This relationship is so strong, that the gut can be thought of as the “second brain.” When there is an imbalance of bacteria in our gut, the bad bacteria and undigested proteins leak into the blood stream. This is what’s known as a “leaky gut.” A leaky gut stimulates pro-inflammatory cytokines that cause an exaggerated immune system response, resulting in inflammation and tissue destruction.
Although somewhat of a new concept in the scientific world, scientists are in consensus that our microbiome impacts specific hormonal exchanges enabling communication between gut bacteria and the brain. This is especially true with the stress hormone, cortisol. Those with chronic fatigue will have low levels of this stress hormone. And although it may sound like a good thing to have low levels of stress hormone, too much or too little cortisol can cause exhaustion, dizziness, heart palpitations and food cravings. There is no test for a leaky gut, but making an appointment with a nutritionist or registered dietitian will do wonders – learn about healthy eating and develop meal plans to nourish the body. A probiotic supplement is another great place to start.