We’ve all felt fatigued from staying up late on a weekend, skipping breakfast and existing on junk food, or working longer hours. Those reasons are fairly easy to fix with a few lifestyle adjustments improving your energy levels. But what if your energy drain is something more concerning that should be brought to your doctor’s attention? If you feel your tiredness is out of the ordinary and is more than just lack of sleep, make an appointment with your doctor. Chronic, unrelenting fatigue is a common symptom for many medical conditions needing a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Here are 8 examples of medical conditions that may be at the root of your feelings of exhaustion:
Sleep apnea is a chronic condition where a person may pause breathing lasting from a few seconds to a minute when they are sleeping. The pausing in breathing can occur multiple times a minute and when breathing returns to normal, often a snort of choking sound occurs that is disruptive to their sleep. The result is poor quality sleep leading to excessive daytime sleepiness. Other symptoms associated with sleep apnea may be morning headaches, memory problems, irritability, depression, and a sore throat when waking up.
Untreated sleep apnea not only results in extreme tiredness, but can also lead to heart disease, stroke, or even sudden death. To get an accurate diagnosis, a sleep study test is often recommended, and if present, treatments such as using a CPAP machine may be recommended.
Depression is a condition with a multitude of underlying factors including genetics, brain biology and chemistry. Any significant life event such as trauma, loss or a loved one, or stressful situations can contribute to symptoms. Older adults are at a higher risk for depression especially if they suffer from illnesses or have limitations in activities.
People with depression tend to have problems with sleep such as falling or staying asleep draining their energy levels. Some may struggle to wake up in the morning sleeping too long leading to sluggishness, feeling unmotivated, losing interest in activities, feeling worthless or guilty or having thoughts of suicide.
Anyone with any of the above feelings should talk to their doctor who can recommend a therapist and possible medications to treat the depression.
Anemia is a situation in which the body has a lower number of red blood cells or is insufficient in hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. A lack of hemoglobin or not making enough red blood cells, deprives the body of oxygen making a person feel weak or tired and may also experience shortness of breath, dizziness, or headaches.
To diagnosis anemia, a simple blood test at a doctor’s office is done. If a person is anemic, the treatment will depend on the cause. For instance, if due to iron deficiency anemia, it’s usually treated with iron supplements and increasing iron-rich foods in the diet. If due to a major blood loss, then a blood transfusion may be necessary to boost levels of red blood cells. Or if due to a chronic disease, there is usually no specific type of treatment other than treating the underlying disease.
Diabetes is a disease in which the body either is not making enough insulin or is not using it well. The hormone insulin is required to help the sugar glucose get into the body’s cells to be used for energy. Diabetes that is uncontrolled exhibiting high blood glucose levels due to lack of insulin, will cause a person to feel excessively tired since the glucose is unable to supply the cells with energy.
A simple blood glucose test can be done in a doctor’s office along with a test called hemoglobin A1C to help determine a person’s average blood glucose over the past three months. If diagnosed with diabetes, a person should be referred to a registered dietitian for a carbohydrate-controlled meal plan, increase exercise, lose weight, and have a doctor determine if they need medication or not.
Fatigue can be a side effect of several different medications. Common medications that may excess tiredness include:
- Blood pressure medications
- Statins and fibrates are used to treat cholesterol
- Proton pump inhibitors are used to treat stomach conditions such as acid reflux
- Benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizures
- Antihistamines used to treat allergies
- Antidepressants used to treat depression]
- Antipsychotics used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disease
- Diuretics used to treat high blood pressure, glaucoma, and edema
- Narcotic pain medication
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you suspect your fatigue is medication-related. Do not stop using the medication without consulting with a healthcare professional first.
Hypothyroidism or Hyperthyroidism
A small, butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the front of the neck is called the thyroid gland. This gland releases hormones to help the body regulate and use energy. If the thyroid gland malfunctions, it may lead to either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the body is not producing enough thyroid hormones. Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight, a puffy face, feeling cold, and a slowed heart rate.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid makes too much T4, T3 or both, two primary hormones that control how cells use energy. Common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include increased appetite, nervousness, inability to concentrate, and difficulty in sleeping leading to sleepiness.
Anyone with any of the above symptoms should talk to their doctor to have their hormones levels checked. If they test positive for either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, there are medications that can successfully treat these two conditions.
Congestive heart failure
Approximately 5.8 million Americans feel tired and fatigued from heart failure also known as congestive heart failure. This common phenomenon can lead to excessive tiredness, shortness of breath, and a feeling of being worn out. It’s a sign the heart is becoming weaker losing the ability to pump blood your body needs. This can cause two major problems for the body: (1) the tissues and organs don’t get enough oxygen, and (2) fluid builds up in the lungs and tissues. Because of a weakened heart, feeling fatigued is not unusual.
Congestive heart failure may be diagnosed with a complete physical exam including blood tests, a chest x-ray, echocardiogram, and other diagnostic tools.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a disease many have but are often unaware of it. Referred to as ‘silent liver disease,’ NAFLD is when fat deposits accumulate in your liver. These deposits keep your liver from doing a good job of removing toxins from your blood. It can have various symptoms such as weakness, nausea, yellowing of the skin or eyes, and fatigue.
Blood tests can show high levels of liver enzymes. Additional tests most likely will also be ordered to rule out any other possible liver diseases. An ultrasound may be used to confirm a NAFLD diagnosis.