“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!”
“I just have no energy.”
One of the most common problems of the 21st century woman is fatigue. I am not exaggerating by stating that well over 40% of women I see in my office complain at some stage of their life of excessive tiredness. Lack of energy is not a local phenomenon either (in spite of the claims of one woman who was sure that SRS had something to do with her low energy level. Of course this was the same gal who had been nabbed by aliens and forced to watch reruns of “Geraldo”). National statistics are equally as impressive. One study even went as far to claim that 30.3 % of adolescents experienced excessive fatigue (PEDIATRICS Vol. 119 No. 3 March 2007, pp. e603-e609)
The classification of fatigue runs the gamut from a transient mild tiredness to a debilitating lack of energy. One of the inherent problems in studying a condition such as this is the subjectivity of the diagnosis. Those who suffer with chronic fatigue are often perceived as malingerers and patronizingly dismissed. There is still reluctance on the part of many medical practitioners to legitimize chronic fatigue syndrome, the most extreme form of tiredness, as a genuine entity; however, this appears to be an area where the science is finally catching up with the clinical observation. As with any medical problem that is poorly understood, the treatment of excessive fatigue is varied, sometimes unconventional, and often unsuccessful. It is important to distinguish chronic fatigue syndrome from “garden variety” tiredness as they differ in numbers of symptoms and degree of disability. For many sufferers it comes down to how much the lack of energy interferes with normal day to day activities. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta has set down certain criteria for physicians and researchers to use in making the diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. A CFS diagnosis should be considered in patients who present with six months or more of unexplained fatigue accompanied by other characteristic symptoms. These symptoms include:
- cognitive dysfunction, including impaired memory or concentration
- exhaustion and increased symptoms for more than 24 hours following physical or mental exercise
- unrefreshing sleep
- joint pain (without redness or swelling)
- persistent muscle pain
- headaches of a new type or severity
- tender lymph nodes
- sore throat
You can see from these symptoms that there is tremendous overlap with other common problems. We all may experience some of these problems some of the time. The key is the persistence and intensity of the problem and, importantly, no other medical or emotional troubles that serve as a cause.
There is hope! Since becoming a more universally defined syndrome, additional research has been done on ways to thwart this bothersome illness. Many of these treatments and suggestions also apply to the woman who has only mild symptoms. So whether you are unable to get out of the bed or just collapse at the end of a busy day, these pointers may be worthwhile pursuing.
First and foremost, get a good checkup by your doctor. Many medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, menopause, Lupus, depression, anemia, and sleep apnea have fatigue as a primary symptom. If you check out well with your doc, consider the following:
1. Check your sleep habits. We are a culture of sleep deprivation. It makes logical sense that if we don’t sleep restfully we will be tired the next day. I am amazed at the number of folks that forget this simple connection. Improve your sleep and your energy will rebound.
2. Force yourself to get off the couch. Multiple studies show the positive effect of exercise on energy level. You may be saying, “I would exercise if I wasn’t so darn tired!” It is tough, but forcing yourself to do something, even a good walk, will, over time, improve your energy level.
3. Garbage in equals energy gone. We are what we eat, and this applies to energy level. In fact, energy derives from the body’s ability to metabolize food. If we put molasses in our car’s gas tank, it won’t go far. If we put junk in our gas tank, we won’t go far!
4. Reduce stress. Stress magnifies everything! The more stress, the more your lack of energy. It’s as if the body tries to shut down to save itself from the stress. The more you can minimize stress, the more energy you will have.
I realize this is a very superficial treatment of very complex solutions, but maybe it can stimulate you to investigate these approaches on your own.