Fatigue – Why Do You Feel Like A Zombie?by Lauren Deville on Jun. 29, 2012, under Natural Medicine Tips
Almost any chronic medical condition can cause fatigue. Possible causes that must be ruled out include:
- Hypothyroidism. The thyroid is a gland responsible for producing hormones associated with the body’s metabolic rate. Hypothyroidism typically presents with a collection of symptoms such as weight gain, constipation, sluggishness, hair loss or dry skin, hair, and eyes. For more information, see here.
- Hyperthyroidism can also cause fatigue. Although hyperthyroidism increases the body’s metabolism, fatigue may be a longer term effect from this process.
- Anemia. Technically anemia means low hemoglobin levels. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, responsible for carrying oxygen to peripheral tissues. Without sufficient oxygen, you’ll feel feel sluggish and exhausted. It can be caused by hemolysis (red blood cells that burst open), chronic diseases, certain autoimmune conditions, Vitamin B12 or folate deficiency, and of course iron deficiency.
- Depression can make you exhausted. So can a number of other psych disorders, including bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia, delusional disorders, and dementia. For more information, click here.
- Insomnia. If you’re not sleeping enough, you’re gonna be wiped out. The same goes for other sleep disorders, including sleep apnea and narcolepsy. For more information, click here.
- Infections - including but not limited to mononucleosis (which I mention because it can cause longer-term fatigue than some of the more acute infections). Mono patients have fatigue, drowsiness, headache, sore throat, and a general sense of illness. Usually they also have swollen lymph nodes, a swollen spleen and occasionally an enlarged liver. I’d also put Lyme Disease in the category of infections, though that’s a whole different beast – tricky to diagnose and even trickier to treat. For more information, click here.
- Diabetes is usually fairly easy to recognize because in addition to drowsiness and fatigue, you’ll have excessive thirst, hunger, and urination. These patients may also experience nausea and decreased exercise tolerance. For more information, click here.
- Malnutrition or malabsorption syndromes can be caused by a number of underlying conditions, including certain medications. Symptoms include gas and bloating, chronic diarrhea, and weight loss.
- Chronic disease (to be differentiated by your doctor – don’t go freaking yourself out with internet diagnoses) in general may present with fatigue as well as malaise, loss of appetite and weight loss. Other specific symptoms obviously depend on the illness in question.
- Vitamin B12 Deficiency may be caused by the autoimmune condition Pernicious anemia, by malabsorption due to gastritis, surgical removal of certain key parts of the stomach or small intestine necessary for absorption, or (most commonly in my experience) by either a vegetarian diet or by acid blocking pharmaceuticals. Symptoms including weakness, lightheadedness, rapid heart rate and breathing, pale complexion, diarrhea and constipation.
- Low testosterone in men can cause fatigue among other symptoms, which include low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, sleep disturbances, and mood changes.
- Fibromyalgia is a condition that is closely linked with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and they frequently occur together. Both conditions have diagnostic criteria but no obvious causes or definitive lab values. Symptoms include widespread musculoskeletal pain, called tender points, which present with a deep ache and occasionally a shooting, burning pain. The pain tends to worsen with movement, weather changes, and stress. For more information, click here.
- Many medications have fatigue listed as a side effect. Common medications with this complication include some antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, sedatives, antihistamines, steroids, and some blood pressure medications, as well as withdrawal from certain medications.
- Adrenal fatigue is the cause I actually see more often than any other. Specifically it refers to their ability to help the body cope with stress — prolonged stress can lead to adrenal burnout. The term adrenal fatigue was coined by Dr James Wilson in 1998, and it’s considered to be a less severe version of adrenal insufficiency, which is also known as Addison’s Disease. For more information, click here.
Obviously the treatment depends on the cause, so I won’t even try to expound on the options here. I suggest you get a good workup from a naturopathic doctor with enough time to take a thorough history! Sometimes in order to discover the underlying cause of fatigue, you have to be a good sleuth.
Dr Lauren Deville is board-certified to practice Naturopathic Medicine. To receive her free e-book, “Ten Nutritional Supplements Everyone Should Have,” or to receive her monthly health and wellness newsletter, please sign up at www.drlaurendeville.com.