We all know lack of sleep and a too-busy lifestyle can zap your energy. But chronic exhaustion could also signal a serious medical condition. Here are three common causes of fatigue—and a few easy ways to get back your pep.
- Your ticker is working overtime.
Wiped out after your usual walking routine or yard cleanup? You may have a heart problem. Exhaustion is one of the key symptoms of heart disease, especially in women. To be safe, make an appointment with your healthcare provider, who can evaluate risk factors such as a family history of heart disease and blood pressure or cholesterol problems.
Energy-boosting strategy: At your exam, ask if you need a stress test. “If one of my patients mentions that she has chest discomfort, shortness of breath or an inability to exercise, she immediately gets a stress test,” says Cherese Wiley, MD, an internist at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. If you have heart disease, medications or procedures can help restore your energy.
- Your cells are starving.
Fatigue and a general “blah” feeling is often one of the first signs of diabetes, says endocrinologist Eva Cwynar, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine at UCLA.
Why? Because your body isn’t making enough of, or isn’t responding to, the hormone insulin, which helps glucose (sugar) move from the bloodstream into the cells. When blood sugar remains high, this not only “starves” the cells that use glucose for fuel but also harms certain organs and tissues.
Energy-boosting strategy: If you feel draggy and you’re always thirsty, have vision problems or need to urinate a lot, see your healthcare provider for a blood test. The key to feeling better if you have diabetes is to control your blood sugar with diet, exercise and medication.
- Your hormones are off kilter.
For women (and occasionally men), fatigue could signal an underactive thyroid gland. Other tip-offs include unexplained weight gain, joint and muscle pain, and general weakness. Another problem for older men and women, says Dr. Cwynar: Low testosterone, which can cause lack of energy or sex drive, depression, loss of muscle mass and—if not treated and monitored—osteoporosis.
Energy-boosting strategy: A blood test by your healthcare provider can detect if you’re low on thyroid hormone or testosterone. For either problem, hormone replacement is safe as long as you’re carefully monitored by your doctor, says Dr. Cwynar.