It’s natural to feel a little tired every now and again, particularly at this time of year as the long, dark, and thoroughly miserable evenings set in. Often referred to as the winter blues, this kind of tiredness is usually caused by a lack of natural daylight, and by decreasing levels of exercise; because who wants to go out for that run when it’s getting chillier by the second?
The winter blues are relatively common, and can be treated with a little self-administered TLC. The bad news is that fatigue can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious, underlying health condition. So, how can you tell when those feelings of weariness have become something altogether more concerning than a case of the winter blues?
Could my fatigue be a symptom of something more serious?
It’s normal to feel a little tired and run down from time to time, especially in the flu season, or during particularly stressful periods at home or work. Tiredness can occur when we’ve been working too hard and resting too infrequently and, bizarrely, when we’ve been a little too inactive. It’s also common to feel unrested if you’ve been drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, or if you’ve simply not been sleeping.
Tiredness is something we’ve all experienced – though it does vary widely among individuals. Feeling exhausted is not pleasant, but such general feelings of ill health or lethargy tend to wear off with a little well-earned rest and rehydration, or the appropriate medication to treat a specific condition.
The term ‘fatigue’ is relative, and evaluates levels of tiredness when compared to our usual energy levels; one person’s ‘normal’ might reflect another’s bad day, for example. You’ve no doubt come to know your own body well, and will be able to identify quickly when something doesn’t feel right. Are you a little run down, or is there something else going on?
Extreme fatigue or exhaustion refers to a constant lack of energy, unexplained tiredness that won’t abate, and lingering feelings of sluggishness that limit daily tasks and activities. If you’re suffering from extreme fatigue, there’s a chance you’re slow to get going in the morning. Perhaps you feel as though you’ve barely slept a wink, even though you’ve been in bed longer than usual. Those experiencing extreme fatigue are often unable to function; it can make the simplest tasks impossible, or unbearable to complete. If you’ve been experiencing prolonged periods of extreme tiredness, and have started to notice that your daily routine is becoming a struggle, there could be an underlying reason why, beyond a need for a little more sleep.
Forget the winter blues; it’s time to start looking after your health.
Things to look out for
It’s incredibly easy to feel run down at this time of year. As well as general coughs, colds, and viruses, fatigue can be a symptom of more concerning health conditions, including fibromyalgia, anemia, heart disease, chronic kidney disease, liver disease or hepatitis, arthritis, diabetes, hypothyroidism, cancer, or sleep apnea. Psychological disorders, including anxiety, depression, and stress can also trigger fatigue, so it’s important that you don’t discount the tiredness you’ve been experiencing.
Take note of how long you’ve been feeling run down. Has it been days or weeks? When was the last time you remember feeling well? If you’ve been experiencing symptoms of fatigue, such as unexplained, extreme tiredness, a lack of concentration, and agitation for more than a week without any other signs that something is wrong, it’s time to see your doctor.
It’s also important to be aware of other symptoms that might accompany your fatigue, particularly as they could be a symptom of a more serious health condition. Loss of appetite, fever, shortness of breath, night sweats, dizziness, intolerance to heat or cold, irritability and anxiety, muscle pain, stiff and tender joints, increased thirst and hunger, unexplained weight loss or weight gain, jaundice, inability to concentrate or slurred speech, and increased urination are all indicators there could be something far more serious happening beneath your skin; it’s definitely time to see a doctor.
It’s time to tackle tiredness
If you’ve been suffering from constant, unexplained fatigue it’s better to be safe than sorry – whether your tiredness is accompanied by other symptoms or not. The best way to monitor your health is to become more conscious of your ‘normal’; get to know your body, and understand when it’s trying to tell you something. The human body works in mysterious ways, and seemingly unrelated symptoms can indicate an issue that requires immediate attention. Take your liver, for example. It is responsible for removing potentially toxic substances from the body, as well as metabolizing nutrients from food, fighting infection, the storage of vitamins and minerals, and the production of protein; the liver is vital for many day-to-day functions that we take for granted.
Fatigue, loss of appetite, sickness, and swelling, and jaundice are all symptoms of serious liver conditions, and shouldn’t be ignored. The good news is that such issues are easy to spot by way of a blood test or liver function test, enabling your practitioner to begin the best course of treatment. Indeed, a simple liver function test can help determine the cause of your fatigue and accompanying symptoms. That’s not to say that your fatigue is related to liver disease, of course. Indeed, any number of conditions can be diagnosed with simple blood or urine tests, or a physical examination, but you must take that first step towards treatment yourself.
It’s important to remember at this point that you’re not alone; whether you’re experiencing extreme tiredness due to a lifestyle change, prolonged periods of stress, or an underlying health issue there are numerous ways to handle your health.
Cases of extreme tiredness can often be tackled by drinking more water, limiting caffeine and alcohol, intake, and undertaking gentle to moderate exercises, such as yoga, swimming, walking, or cycling.
If you’re struggling to get to sleep or to stay asleep it’s certainly worth exploring avenues of relaxation and wellbeing, even if you’re unsure about medication at this point. Above all, you must realize that a diagnosis is the best way to begin tackling your symptoms, regardless of how daunting that prospect might seem. Experiencing tiredness beyond the winter blues won’t necessarily mean there’s something gravely wrong, but it could be a sign that your body isn’t working quite as it should. Listen to what your body is telling you, and get those winter blues checked out.