By Henrylito D. Tacio
You feel like you just ran the Olympic marathon – only you just got out of bed. Strange, isn’t it? You’re completely drained. Washed out. Running on empty. Not just today, but every day.
Call it fatigue, exhaustion, weariness – whatever. If you have it, you’re not alone. “Fatigue is second only to pain as the most common symptom doctors see in patients,” says Dr. David S. Bell, a chronic fatigue researcher at Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts.
The word “fatigue” is used in everyday life to describe a range of afflictions, varying from a general state of lethargy to a specific work-induced burning sensation within your muscles. It can be both physical and mental. It is not the same as drowsiness, but the desire to sleep may accompany fatigue.
Fatigue can have many causes. “The most common energy eaters are usually related to a person’s lifestyle,” says Dr. D.W. Edington, director of the Fitness Research Center at the University of Michigan. “Poor eating habits, obesity, crash diets, lack of rest and exercise, smoking, drinking – all take heavy tolls on the body.”
Stress, job pressures and depression can all build up until they simply wear you down. Even something like not drinking enough water can be a factor. Some medications, including beta blockers and antihistamines, can cause fatigue.
Sudden or persistent fatigue, despite adequate rest, may mean it’s time for you to consult your doctor. Unrelenting exhaustion may be a sign of an underlying medical problem. In general, talk to your doctor if you’re extremely tired or unable to regain your energy after several weeks of increased rest. Medical causes of fatigue can include:
Hypotension. The exact opposite of hypertension, it is a condition in which the blood pressure is so low that the flow of blood to the organs of the body is inadequate. “When the flow of blood is too low to deliver enough oxygen and nutrients to vital organs such as the brain, heart, and kidney,” explains Dr. John Cunha, an attending physician in the emergency department of Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, “the organs do not function normally and may be permanently damaged.”
Low pressure alone, without symptoms or signs, usually is not unhealthy. The symptoms include lightheadedness, dizziness, and fainting. These symptoms are most prominent when you go from the lying or sitting position to the standing position.
Low blood pressure can cause strokes, heart attacks, kidney failure. It’s most severe form is shock, a life-threatening condition where persistently low pressure causes organs to fail rapidly. Common causes of hypotension include a reduced volume of blood, heart disease, and medications. The cause of low blood pressure can be determined with blood tests, radiologic studies, and cardiac testing to look for arrhythmias. Treatment is determined by the cause of the low pressure.
Hypothyroidism. The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland found just below the Adam’s apple. When it fails to make enough thyroid hormone to maintain the body’s metabolism, the body starts slowing down. Sufferers gain weight, feel tired and can experience memory lapses – the symptoms are myriad and confusing.
Women are five times more likely to develop hypothyroidism than men. “The disease tends to manifest itself as the person ages,” sys Professor Mafauzy Mohamed, consultant endocrinologist at Universiti Sains Malaysia.
Aside from fatigue, a diagnosis of hypothyroidism can be suspected in patients with cold intolerance, constipation, swelling of legs, muscle cramps, dry and flaky skin, sleep difficulties, and hair loss. A blood test is needed to confirm the diagnosis.
Properly diagnosed, hypothyroidism can be easily and completely treated with thyroid hormone replacement. On the other hand, untreated hypothyroidism can lead to an enlarged, worsening heart failure, and an accumulation of fluid around the lungs.
Sleep apnea. Cartoons have long poked fun at thunderous snoring, but experts are realizing the noise is serious. Snoring may indicate sleep apnea, which can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes.
A collapsing airway triggers the snoring, and it can interrupt breathing for as long as a minute. “People who have sleep apnea stop breathing for 10 to 30 seconds at a time while they are sleeping,” says Dr. Adrian Siew Ming Saurajen, a consultant at the Ear, Nose, Throat and Snoring Center of the Mount Elizabeth Medical Center in Singapore. These short stops in breathing can happen up to 400 times every night.
It was once thought to affect only men who smoked, drank or were obese, but post-menopausal women and children also suffer from it. Snoring is the most ubiquitous symptom. Also, daytime sleepiness, morning headaches, inability to concentrate, depression, decreased sex drive, and fatigue.
Those with mild cases are urged to stop use of alcohol and sleep medicines and quit smoking. Sleeping on the side can also help. For more severe cases, patients find relief by using a machine that forces air through the nasal passages during sleep.
Chronic fatigue syndrome. Sometimes called the “yuppie flu,” chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating disorder that leaves you immobile and inactive for months, even years. “It doesn’t have a single cause but is a combination of viral infections, an altered immune system and other factors,” says Dr. Nelson Gantz, chairman of the Department of Medicine and chief of the Infectious Disease Division at the Polyclinic Medical Center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The early sign is a strong and noticeable fatigue that comes on suddenly and often comes and goes or never stops. You feel too tired to do normal activities or are easily exhausted with no apparent reason. The fatigue does not go away with a few good nights of sleep. Instead, it slyly steals your energy and vigor.
Although the cause of CFS is still unknown, doctors can diagnose it by ruling out other possible causes of fatigue. Aside from fatigue, other symptoms include headache, tender lymph nodes, muscle and joint aches, and inability to concentrate.
Some experts consider CFS a sleep disorder, since its victims often sleep twice as long as other people yet still feel severely fatigued. Others think it results from stress, since CFS often strikes young high achievers who lead stressful lives but otherwise are in good health. And researchers wonder why 80 percent of CFS patients are women, most of them between the ages of 25 and 45.
CFS has no cure, but eventually it runs its course and some people who have it recover fully. Others have persistent symptoms that wax and wane. — ###