On a weekly basis in my work as a GP registrar I see patients, especially ladies, complaining of feeling tired all the time. I imagine many of you can relate to this, I know I can: work-life, home- life, marathon training- sometimes you just need an early night (or two). In fact, 10-18% of people in the UK admit to feeling tired or fatigued persistently for a month or longer, and 1.5% of the population see their GP each year due to tiredness. This may not sound much, but it’s actually 640 thousand consultations per year, and I expect many more people don’t see their doctor about feeling tired. Given the impact tiredness can have on your work, family life and other relationships, is it really worth ignoring? I rarely see my own GP, but after feeling tired recently I paid them a visit, and it turns out I have a thyroid problem myself, you see, you just never know…
The first thing to look at if you’re tired all the time is definitely your lifestyle. Many people work long hours, but still strive to maintain the perfect “work-life balance”,trying to find enough time to see friends, family and pursue personal interests. I’m equally guilty of burning the candle at both ends, and like to think that I can do everything I please with no effect on my health. Sometimes, this is simply not possible, and you end up feeling tired, stressed and if you’re anything like me, a bit of a failure.
If you’re feeling tired, look over your diary for the last week. Read it as if you were looking at someone else’s schedule- if you feel exhausted just reading it, you may have your answer. Try and make a few changes to your lifestyle, and if after this you feel just as tired, then perhaps there could be something else going on.
IRON DEFICIENCY ANAEMIA
Aah, that monthly period!! How we love you! Not only is your monthly period a massive pain, it could also be contributing to how tired you feel by causing a condition called anaemia.
SO, WHAT IS ANAEMIA?
Your blood is made up of several cells, including red blood cells, which are made by your bone marrow. These red blood cells contain a chemical called haemoglobin which is responsible for carrying oxygen around the body to all of your cells. If you don’t have enough red blood cells or you don’t have enough haemoglobin in each cell, you could be anaemic.
The most common cause of anaemia in the UK is iron- deficiency. Iron forms part of the normal structure of haemoglobin, so if you’re deficient in iron, you won’t have enough haemoglobin in each red blood cell. This means the red blood cells carry less oxygen around the body. As a result, people often complain of feeling tired, having palpitations, or feeling breathless. It can also affect your immune system leaving you prone to infections. It’s not surprising really then, that studies have shown it to reduce work productivity, endurance and exercise capacity.
The most common cause of iron- deficiency in the UK is menstruation. Regular periods, means regular loss of iron, even more so if your periods are long or heavy. If you’re not making up for this loss in your diet, you could well be deficient. Given it can be diagnosed on a blood test and easily treated with supplements, it’s worth getting checked out if you think you’re at risk. It may even explain why you can’t quite get the marathon time you want or maintain your speed in an interval session.
Your thyroid is a hormone secreting gland found in your neck and secretes two hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones are responsible for controlling your metabolism, and are essential for the normal functioning of your body’s cells. Thyroid problems are very common, and although they mainly effect women, they can effect anyone at any age.
Thyroid problems occur when the gland either secretes too many hormones or too little. If you secrete too many hormones, the activity of the cells speeds up (hyperthyroidism), leading to symptoms such as weight loss, palpitations, tremor and diarrhoea.
On the other hand if the thyroid secretes too few hormones, the activity of the cells slows down (hypothyroidism), leading to symptoms such as tiredness, weight gain, and constipation.
There are many causes of thyroid disorders, but the most common in the UK are autoimmune thyroid problems- the body’s own immune system attacks the thyroid cells as it thinks they are foreign, resulting in them releasing too many or too little hormones.
As I mentioned above, hypothyroidism can make you feel extremely tired. as well as having a whole host of other symptoms such as constipation, weight gain, dry skin, and even changes to your period and depression.
Thyroid problems often run in families, so if one of your parents or siblings are affected by hypothyroidism or any other autoimmune disease, you may well be at risk.
As with anaemia, it’s a condition that can be easily diagnosed with blood tests and treated with thyroxine tablets, so if any of these symptoms sound familiar, get tested!
Depression is extremely common in our population and is one of the most likely reasons that someone will visit their GP. It’s so common, in fact, that 1 in 4 women will need treatment for depression at some point in their life. The cause of depression isn’t clearly understood, but is thought to involve a variety of factors, including psychological factors (being unemployed or having a relationship breakdown) genetic factors, and physical factors, such as suffering from multiple health problems.
Depression is characterised by a persistently low mood, and a loss of interest in doing things that you usually enjoy. Patients often complain of tiredness as well as other symptoms such as lack of concentration, change in their sleep patterns and a change in their appetite and weight.
If you’re worried that your tiredness could be related to low mood, there’s plenty of help out there, so it’s worth discussing how you’re feeling with your GP.
This is by no means an extensive list of the causes of tiredness, but the most common things I see in my practice. I hope it’s got you thinking, and may even encourage a few of you to see your Doctor. Most things can be diagnosed on a simple blood test, and you never know, you could end up feeling a whole lot better!
If there are any health problems you’d like me to write about on the blog- please get in touch, and I’ll see what I can do!
The data from this post is taken from the current NICE guidelines, which are used by practicing clinicians in the UK.