Sure, every woman feels tired from time to time. Most of us burn the candle at both ends simply trying to balance work, social and family life. Sometimes we’re just a bit wiped out from the frenetic juggle. Sometimes we’re simply weary from not getting enough sleep, which leaves us in a fog. But this deep in the bones fatigue is more than that worsens with physical or mental activity but isn’t resolved with rest and there are days that I wake without the energy to even drive my kids to school.
I’m doing everything right. I’m getting adequate sleep, eating a healthy diet packed full of veggies and lean protein and, while I could certainly make improvements, I am exercising daily. So, what’s the dealio?
The last time I felt like this was a child recovering from the prolonged effects of the physical and psychological trauma of major surgery, without which I wouldn’t still be here. I’ve understood how precious my health is from a young age, so whenever I feel the tendrils of fatigue start to unfurl, I take immediate action. I eat clean, stop drinking any alcohol, take prescribed supplements and step up the exercise. I usually feel the difference within a week. This time it’s been months.
So, what are the main causes of extreme fatigue in women?
Beside the work, social and family juggle? From lifestyle factors to mental health and physical illness, there are many causes of fatigue in women. Beyond the obvious ones, like not enough sleep, here are some of the more common reasons we are seeing more worn out and weary women than ever before.
COVID-19 – I’ll start with this one because it is both topical and, it turns out, the cause of my own fatigue. A visit to the doctor, followed by umpteen specialists, uncovered a partially collapsed lung due to pleurisy, rather fetchingly accessorised with residual inflammation of the tissue surrounding my heart due to Pericarditis. Both are the result of a run in with Omicron and both led to decreased amounts of oxygen in the blood and shortness of breath, which in turn left me literally wiped out. And it’s going to take a little more than upping my veggie intake to correct. I need time.
But it is important to note that fatigue, for days or weeks, without the wonky lungs or heart, is a common side effect of coronavirus and for some people, the symptoms can last months after the infection has gone. This is known as long COVID or post-COVID-19 syndrome. So, if you’re suddenly inexplicably tired, regardless of the presence of other known COVID symptoms, it is wise to take a test straight away.
Anemia – In Australia around 12 per cent of women suffer from Anemia, one of the most common causes of fatigue. A condition which affects the quantity of healthy red blood cells, heavy menstrual cycles, uterine fibroids, polyps and chronic diseases including diabetes can be an underlying cause. But in many cases, it is a lack of iron, folic acid and vitamin B12 that’s the root of the problem, and a diet rich in iron-rich foods is encouraged. Iron and Vitamin C supplements can also help with absorption.
Type-2 Diabetes – With Type-2 diabetes at epidemic level in Australia, it’s no surprise so many people are fatigued as it is a common symptom of the disease. This is due to poor blood sugar control affecting your blood glucose levels and the production of insulin by the pancreas, which can bring on episodes of extreme fatigue. Type-2 diabetes sufferers also are more prone to bouts of depression, emotional stress and anxiety that can also lead to fatigue.
Menopause – Yep, that old chestnut. Menopause is at the root of so many physical health issues but one of the most common symptoms is disrupted sleep, which of course can leave you drained during the day. It can also result in weight gain which is another underlying cause of fatigue. Eating a healthy, balanced, and nutritious diet, limiting alcohol, staying active and participating in resistance training can help manage to the symptoms of menopause, and help beat fatigue.
The Thyroid – Low thyroid function (Hypothyroidism), is the most common thyroid disorder in Australia, disproportionately affecting women over 40. It can cause a slowing of metabolism to which can lead to lethargy and fatigue. Taking your thyroid medication early in the day and regularly, and supporting the body with a nutritious diet and adequate exercise can help manage the symptoms and fight related fatigue.
Heart Disease – Heart disease is the second biggest killer of women in Australia and fatigue is an almost universal symptom, due to lower cardiac output, meaning not as much oxygen and blood are going to the brain and muscles. However, early dietary and lifestyle interventions can significantly reduce and help with symptoms.
Fibromyalgia – Severe fatigue is one of the first signs of fibromyalgia, a common condition causing widespread muscle pain and tenderness throughout the body. This is due to patients often having trouble sleeping but also the result of the body fighting with the pain. Patients often find no matter how much sleep they get it is not restful, and the resulting fog leaves little enthusiasm for the exercise which can be of benefit.
Mental health – Taking care of our mental health is essential to maintaining energy levels with depression, grief, trauma and anxiety often an underlying cause of chronic fatigue. Living with constant negative thoughts can simply be exhausting and the symptoms of stress related to mental health disorders accumulate, leaving you emotionally worn. But these same symptoms can lead to irritability and lack of motivation, which in turn leads to sleep patterns, diet and a lack of exercise. Treating the underlying issue can often help with fatigue.
Exercise – While we all know that exercise fights fatigue and boosts energy, and that not getting enough can have a severe impact on our overall health, too much exercise can also impact our health negatively. Extreme physical workouts without the appropriate rest and recovery can result in such stress to muscles, joints and bones that it can lead to fatigue. Around 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week is ideal for optimal energy.
Diet – What you eat can have an enormous impact on energy levels. Eating foods that lack nutrition can have a major impact, as can foods that cause spikes in blood sugar levels, which can leave you fatigued. A poor diet can also lead to weight gain which in turn means your body has to work harder again leading to fatigue. But not eating enough can also lead to fatigue. Dehydration can also be at the root of fatigue so ensure that along with balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein you drink adequate water.