Fatigue and When You Should Worry

It is 4:20pm. I am having a typical day. Big kids are all at after-school stuff. One little guy sleeping, the other sitting on my lap getting spinach hummus all over my keyboard. Forgive any typos today, he’s not that smart. I am struggling to keep my eyes open, and I can’t figure out why. I went out last night, but I was the driver, so I can’t blame the booze. I’ve been sick for the last few weeks, but haven’t we all? I got up at a normal time, had my normal daily allotment of caffeine, volunteered at the school, ran some errands, didn’t overeat, the weather is nice, it is staying lighter later … so, what the heck? Should I be worried? Here are some conditions that can be hallmarked by intense fatigue.

1. Hypothyroidism – The other symptoms of this endocrine system disorder include dry skin, thinning hair, weight gain, joint and muscle pain and feeling cold all the time — essentially, everything you feel during the winter months. A simple blood test can be diagnostic.

2. Sleep Apnea – Do you snore? Are you overweight? Do you wake frequently in the night? Do you wake feeling exhausted? If you are feeling fatigued and you answered yes to some of these, consider talking to your doctor about the possibility of sleep apnea. There are treatments that can help.

3. Depression – In addition to fatigue and the obvious symptom of intense sadness, symptoms of depression include difficulty concentrating, memory problems, feelings of guilt and hopelessness, loss of interest in life and inexplicable aches and pains. It is normal to feel sad, lonely and even hopeless once in a while. If these feelings are persistent and are affecting your life, talk to your doctor. At this time of year, you may also be suffering from seasonal affective disorder.

4. Stress – Every single person I talk to is stressed. It is a by-product of being human. How you handle your stress will determine how it affects you physically. Stress can cause insomnia which results in fatigue. If you think your exhaustion is stress related, try some relaxation techniques, force yourself to take some time for you, and/or take a step back and evaluate what is stressing you.

5. Chronic disease – Here is what you are really worried about, right? Could your fatigue be because of cancer, an autoimmune disease, or other serious illness? The short answer is yes. The more responsible answer is you would probably also have some other symptoms. However, if you are concerned, there is no time like the present to get that overdue physical.

Wait a minute … I just diagnosed myself. I don’t have any of the above.  I have a temporary ailment known as small children-itis. In addition to periodic dementia, frequent bouts of screaming and fits of laughter, a main symptom is inexplicable exhaustion. What a relief — should clear up in about 16 years. By then, I will be able to justifiably blame my fatigue on old age.

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Author: Karen Latimer

Karen is a Family Physician, founder and president of Tips From Town. She loves combining all she learned as a doctor with all she continues to learn as a mom of five to bring you interesting, useful and fun information on the Family Pages.

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