Seven medical reasons why you might be feeling tired all the time

We all know that overdoing it and skipping sleep often leaves us feeling sluggish the morning after. But if you’re getting enough sleep and still suffering from constant low energy, it’s worth considering whether there might be an underlying cause, possibly a health issue.

With that in mind, we spoke to experts to find out the possible explanations for why you could be feeling drained, and the steps that you can take to feel re-energised.

1. Iron-deficiency anaemia

Anaemia is a condition characterised by a loss of red blood cells.

Iron-deficiency anaemia is a condition where a lack of iron in the body leads to a reduction in red blood cells, and it is thought that up to 5 per cent of the Australian population has iron deficiency anaemia.

“People with anaemia can have a general lack of energy or tiredness, but also feel weak, faint or dizzy,” explains Dr Davina Deniszczyc. “In severe cases, shortness of breath, pale complexion, brittle or dry nails and a sore and dry mouth and gums may develop.”

Women are more at risk of developing it, as around a third are thought to be low in iron due to heavy periods. A simple blood test can be done by your GP to detect anaemia, and iron supplements are typically prescribed, along with a diet of iron-rich foods (these include green, leafy vegetables, as well as meat and beans).

“It’s really important to get an early diagnosis, as left untreated, anaemia can impact your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness or infection,” says Dr Deniszczyc.

Read: How to overcome tiredness

2. Coeliac disease

Lethargy can also be a warning sign that something is wrong with your gut. Coeliac disease is a lifelong autoimmune disorder where consuming even the smallest amount of gluten triggers damaging – and potentially serious – reactions in the small intestines. It affects approximately one in 70 Australians (many of whom are yet to be diagnosed).

Pain and digestive problems are also common symptoms. “If you have coeliac disease, your immune system reacts to wheat, barley or rye by attacking the lining of your intestine,” explains Dr Deniszczyc. If your GP thinks you may be coeliac, a blood test is usually the first step towards a confirmed diagnosis. There’s no cure but the condition can be managed with a strict gluten-free diet.

3. Dehydration

Staying hydrated is crucial for keeping your energy levels up.

The solution for feeling sprightlier could be as simple as drinking more water. “Dehydration is no small matter; it can cause fatigue, lower back pain, bags under the eyes and anxiety, to name just a few symptoms,” says nutritionist Emma Thornton. “In fact, a group of scientists from the University of Connecticut’s Human Performance Laboratory found even mild dehydration, as a result of our ordinary daily activities, can alter a person’s mood, energy levels and memory function. As a good rule of thumb, aim to drink at least 1.5 litres of water a day.”

Read: Health benefits of drinking only water

4. Chronic fatigue syndrome

This rare but debilitating condition, also known as CFS or ME, is believed to affect 0.4 per cent of the population, and causes debilitating fatigue that comes on quickly and can severely impair your ability to function.

“Chronic fatigue syndrome can cause severe tiredness that’s not relieved by rest or sleep,” says Dr Deniszczyc. “Other symptoms can include aching joints and muscles, loss of memory or concentration, gastric problems and disturbed sleep.” Since the symptoms are similar to many other conditions, it can be difficult to diagnose, but your GP might carry out a number of tests to rule out other conditions, such as lupus and multiple sclerosis, before making a diagnosis.

5. Depression

A knock to your mental health can take a severe toll on your quality of sleep and energy levels, and depression can deplete your brain of serotonin, which helps regulate your internal body clock. “Everyone can feel sad, tired or experience problems sleeping at times in our lives,” says Dr Deniszczyc. “Normally, these incidents of low mood will ease after a few days or weeks, but if your feelings begin to interfere with daily activities, it might be time to talk to your doctor as you could be experiencing depression.”

Your GP can discuss treatment options with you too, such as therapy, counselling and/or anti-depressants, while regular exercise and a healthy diet can also help.

6. Poor diet

If your diet’s very poor, or you’re simply not eating enough, lack of nutrition could be making you tired – and too much sugar can have the same impact. “Making some simple dietary changes could make a big difference to energy levels,” says Ms Thornton. “Thinking about the amount of sugary food and fizzy drink you are consuming, plus cutting down on stimulants such as caffeine will help. Watch out for erratic eating patterns too – eating heavy meals late at night may impact your sleep quality, which can result in food cravings and weight gain longer term.”

Read: Healthy snacks to power you through the day

7. Underactive thyroid

Hypothyroidism – or an underactive thyroid – is the most common thyroid disorder in Australia, affecting around one in 33 Australians. It is more common in women than men, and in those aged more than 60 years.

“The thyroid gland produces hormones, which primarily regulate the body’s metabolism and digestive system, so if the thyroid gland is underactive, these hormones are not being produced as effectively,” explains Ms Thornton. “This is why weight gain, as well as lethargy, are extremely common.”

Key warning signs are tiredness, brain fog, thinning hair and feeling cold constantly. If concerned, discuss your symptoms with your GP, who can arrange a blood test.

Treatment for underactive thyroid involves taking hormone replacement tablets to raise your thyroxine levels. While daily medication is usually required, with proper treatment, you should be able to lead a normal, healthy and fatigue-free life.

Do you often feel tired? Have you tried to seek out the underlying cause? Let us know in the comments section below.

– With PA

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Written by Liz Connor

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