Has Fatigue Become all too Familiar?
"How are you today?"
For most of us, this dialogue is familiar. "Feeling tired" is such a common experience that it doesn't even sound any alarms. Should it?
According to Eric Jones, ND, clinical supervisor at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, that all depends. Dr. Jones defines "problem" tiredness (or fatigue) as unexplainable tiredness that has lasted between a few weeks and a month. He adds: "If you're not sure whether it's a problem, you could ask yourself: 'Is this a consistent pattern? Do I wake up as tired as I was when I went to sleep? Do I feel worse after exercising?' I often ask people how long it's been since they've felt 'normal.'"
A common health complaint
More than 50 percent of patients who come to see Dr. Jones complain of feeling tired, although it is not always their chief complaint. Fatigue falls into three general categories: acute, chronic and intermittent. "Acute" fatigue comes on suddenly and can be caused by an infection such as mononucleosis. "Chronic" fatigue is often (but not always) a by-product of depression. "Intermittent" fatigue is often related to situational psychosocial issues, such as family or work stressors.
Lifestyle factors that cause fatigue
For his "tired" patients, Jones investigates life stressors and lifestyle factors, possible toxic environmental exposure and nutritional deficiencies. He conducts a physical examination and often orders lab tests to rule out underlying disorders. "As adults, our systems begin to wear down, and we are more prone to endocrine and hormonal problems," he explains. "We also tend to be sleep-deprived."
Stress is a common culprit, which can affect both eating and sleeping patterns, becoming a vicious cycle, according to Keith Grieneeks, PhD, clinical supervisor in Bastyr's counseling department. "Stress and resulting poor eating and sleeping habits lead to physical fatigue," he says. In his counseling work Dr. Grieneeks attempts to identify any personal-relationship and occupational factors. "We try to help people integrate into their lives healthier ways of taking care of themselves, to foster and enhance their well-being on a daily basis."
If you've been tired a lot, keeping a "lifestyle diary" for a week or a month can provide insights into your nutritional and lifestyle habits. You also might want to consult with a natural health care practitioner to identify contributing factors. In most cases, says Jones, a specific cause for fatigue can be found, and you can get your energy levels back on track.
Common causes of tiredness may include:
- Adrenal insufficiency
- Allergies (including food allergies)
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Eating too infrequently or eating meals that are not balanced
- Environmental toxins such as gas leaks or brand new carpets
- Head trauma
- Illness contracted while traveling
- Infections such as mononucleosis, hepatitis, HIV or strep throat
- Interpersonal or job-related difficulties
- Lack of sleep
- Life stressors such as divorce, loss of employment or children moving out of the house
- Poor diet (too much sugar or caffeine, or lack of protein or iron)
- Side effects of medications or drug interactions
Writer: Sydney Maupin, Staff Writer
Contributor: John Hibbs, ND
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