This week, Dr. Marlena Mattingly, an ob-gyn with Beaufort Memorial Obstetrics & Gynecology Specialists, discusses chronic fatique in women.
Question: Quite a few of my friends complain of fatigue or feeling run down. Are hormones to blame? What causes this and why does it seem to happen to women at certain times and throughout our lives?
Answer: Yes. And the culprit could be one of several different hormones our endocrine glands produce to control most of our major bodily functions. Even a slight imbalance in any of these very powerful chemicals can have considerable effects on the body.
One of the most likely suspects is your thyroid hormone. When a patient complains of chronic fatigue, a thyroid screening is the first test I order.
If the thyroid gland isn’t churning out enough hormones, a condition called hypothyroidism, your metabolism starts slowing down. You may notice your skin is drier, you’re gaining weight and you don’t have the energy you used to have.
Your doctor can treat your hypothyroidism with a synthetic thyroid hormone. The oral medication restores your hormone level, reversing the symptoms.
Ironically, an overactive thyroid gland, known as hyperthyroidism, also can cause you to feel lethargic. Too much thyroid hormone raises your blood calcium level, often resulting in reduced energy. Depending on your age, physical condition and the underlying cause of your hyperthyroidism, treatment for this condition can include radioactive iodine, anti-thyroid medications, beta blockers or surgery.
Hormonal changes related to the menstrual cycle also can cause some women to feel depleted of energy and too tired to do anything but languish on the couch. They may be able to reduce the symptoms of PMS with a few lifestyle changes. Regular daily exercise, for example, can improve overall health and increase your energy level.
The menstrual cycle can cause another fatigue-producing side effect: anemia. Women in their childbearing years are particularly susceptible to iron-deficiency anemia because of heavy periods and the increased blood supply demands during pregnancy.
Unfortunately, women are not out of the woods when they stop having periods. Menopause also can cause fatigue, along with all those other frustrating symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. During the “change of life,” estrogen and progesterone levels are drastically decreased, disturbing your sleep cycle, which can lead to fatigue.
While a hormonal imbalance could be zapping your energy, languor may not be a medical issue at all. It may be our 21st century lifestyle that’s to blame.
Women who are working a full-time job, taking care of kids and maintaining a household, are bound to be exhausted. Making matters worse, you’re stressed from trying to do too much and not getting enough sleep.
If you fall into that category, I have a few suggestions:
▪ Set priorities and don’t sweat the small stuff.
▪ Find time to exercise. It’s a great stress-reliever and energizer.
▪ Eat a nutritious diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
▪ End your day doing something that will help you relax. Read a book, meditate or simply sit quietly away from your cell phone, laptop and TV.