If you’re constantly feeling tired and run down, there could be an underlying reason. We asked GP Dr Rosemary Leonard what the five most common reasons for tiredness are that she sees in patients.
Iron is essential for the formation of haemoglobin, the pigment in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body. Low iron levels lead to anaemia, which causes tiredness and shortness of breath, especially during exercise.
It’s now known that even when haemoglobin levels are maintained, if the body’s stores of iron are depleted, this alone can cause a degree of tiredness.
Women are especially at risk of iron deficiency if monthly periods are heavy and they eat little red meat; the main dietary source of iron; or if they’re vegetarians, eat little of iron-rich foods like spinach and Swiss chard.
Though the insides of the upper eyelids sometimes look pale in those with an iron deficiency, this isn’t an accurate indicator. Instead, a blood test is needed to check both haemoglobin and iron levels.
It’s also a good idea to stabilise your iron levels with a supplement such as Ferrous Forte Chelated Iron, R104 for 30 tablets, available at Dis-Chem or Spatone, a sachet that makes iron-rich water.
Lack of sleep
It may sound obvious, but most people need around eight hours’ sleep every night in order to function optimally the following day.
Generally, doctors try and avoid prescribing sleeping tablets, as they can be very addictive, but they can be useful in the short term to give some much-needed shut-eye.
Broken sleep disrupts the natural sleep cycle and can be caused by frequent trips to the loo or irregular breathing due to snoring. Both need medical attention.
Night sweats caused by menopause can also be to blame.
Anxiety and depression
Depression usually makes people feel lethargic, and sleep disturbance is common, leading to profound tiredness. Constant anxiety is another very common cause of fatigue.
If you think you may either be anxious, depressed or a mix of the two, see your GP. Treatments may include talking therapy and antidepressants. Lifestyle adjustments, such as eating more sensibly and enjoying regular exercise, can also be helpful.
An underactive thyroid
This affects about 1 in 50 women at some time in their life. The thyroid hormone, (thyroxine) has a major influence on metabolism and low levels lead to tiredness, dry skin and hair, feeling cold, constipation and weight gain.
Symptoms often start slowly and may persist for years before diagnosis. In most, it’s an auto-immune condition, with the body’s immune system attacking the thyroid gland.
It can be diagnosed with a blood test. Treatment is with thyroid-hormone tablets, which may need to be continued for life. Regular blood tests to check the thyroid will also be required.
Type 2 diabetes
This affects an increasing number of people over 40, especially if they are overweight. It’s caused by a lack of insulin, which is needed to move sugar from the blood into the tissues to produce energy.
Symptoms can include tiredness, a lack of energy, more frequent infections such as thrush and slightly blurred vision. Diagnosis requires at least two fasting blood tests. Treatment varies but usually involves losing weight, altering your diet, and tablets to boost insulin production.
Tiredness can be a side effect of painkillers with codeine, some antihistamines (especially in higher doses) some antidepressants and beta blockers. If you think you’re affected, don’t stop taking your medication, but discuss it with your GP.
DISCLAIMER: You must not rely on the information on this website/newsletter as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.