by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
As primary caregivers, working mothers and instinctive people-pleasers, women are extremely prone to fatigue. Every day I see patients who commute to work 40+ hours a week, then zoom home to the demands of children, aging parents, and running a household, remaining on the go throughout the day and getting little rest at night.
It’s no wonder women are tired. And I’m not talking about ordinary fatigue here — the kind that goes away after a good night’s sleep. For so many women, fatigue becomes a chronic condition that silently undermines their lives and eventually their health.
When women do seek treatment for fatigue, their healthcare providers will often assure them their symptoms are perfectly normal. In part that’s because medical practitioners are as inured to fatigue as their patients — they’re tired too! But it’s also because they don’t take it seriously: fatigue isn’t a disease, after all.
The problem with this indifference is that chronic fatigue is a serious problem. Women are left with no options to reverse its downward spiral, which leads to premature aging, compromised immune function and, ultimately, heightened risk of disease.
But you don’t have to be trapped in the downward spiral! Fatigue — be it mild, moderate or severe — can for almost all women be reversed completely. And it’s a joy for me too to see women get their energy back — to see their whole love of life restored. So let’s talk about how you can do that for yourself.
The downward spiral into chronic fatigue
Once you’ve ruled out any serious medical condition, chronic fatigue begins as a deceptively simple problem: the demands on your body are greater than the support it is getting. The pattern starts as mild fatigue, which goes away after a good night’s sleep and a little exercise. But chronic fatigue is not temporary – symptoms persist and usually worsen with time, and a good night’s sleep leaves you feeling as tired as before.
Sometimes the downward spiral is triggered by a particularly stressful event, a bout with the flu, or a prolonged stretch of insomnia. In other cases the initial causes are more mysterious, and potentially more troubling. Symptoms of chronic fatigue tend to slowly worsen over time. Women, who are excellent multi-taskers, often ignore their fatigue until it leads to other symptoms, like depression, binge-eating and weight gain. Alternatively, some women tune out their bodies’ signals until they become too loud to ignore — a case of the blahs turns into feeling bone-tired each and every day.
Symptoms of fatigue
Symptoms of fatigue tend to build, slowly worsening, until you feel like a hamster stuck on an exercise wheel. And fatigue can show itself in many ways. For many women these symptoms ebb and flow with their monthly cycle. But in real fatigue they last for weeks or more. Eventually the symptoms are nearly constant. They include:
- Feelings of exhaustion (mental and physical)
- Being tired in the morning, even after a full night’s sleep
- Feeling rundown or overwhelmed
- Inability to bounce back or recover from illness or stress
- Joint pain
- Uncharacteristic muscle soreness after physical exertion
- Depressed mood, loss of energy, or “blah-ness”
- Poor short-term memory, confusion, irritability
- Lightheadedness or a “spacey” feeling
- Strong food cravings (particularly for sweets or other carbs)
- Dependence on caffeine, sugar or alcohol, especially in the afternoon and early evening
- “Second winds” after 6:00 pm