Being tired is a drag – literally. Sometimes you feel like you’re dragging your body around, trying in vain to muster up the strength to get through the day, or fighting drooping eyelids.
If this happens after you pulled an all-nighter bingefest on Netflix, it’s understandable (even though you might be kicking yourself for it). But if you feel this way after a week where you consistently got seven or eight hours of sleep a night, it starts to be concerning.
Chronic fatigue can have causes ranging from viruses like mononucleosis (often called “mono”) to mental health conditions like depression. One often overlooked cause is the simple-to-diagnose and (sometimes) simple-to-treat condition of anaemia.
What is anaemia?
Anaemia is when your body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells. The red blood cells are responsible for the transport of oxygen to the cells throughout your body. Not enough red blood cells means the cells in your body are lacking the oxygen necessary to produce energy.
Common symptoms of anaemia include tiredness and lack of energy, shortness of breath, a pale complexion and heart palpitations.
Anaemia can have several causes, but one of the most common is iron deficiency. Iron is a critical element in hemoglobin, the protein within red blood cells that transports the oxygen. Without enough iron, the body can’t produce enough hemoglobin to carry the oxygen you need.
What causes anaemia?
Anaemia is usually caused by some combination of abnormal blood loss and not enough dietary iron intake. In men, or in women after menopause, the blood loss may be caused by a bleeding stomach or intestinal ulcer. In women during child-bearing years, often heavy periods are the cause of anaemia. (Pregnancy can also cause anaemia; the body needs more iron to aid in the fetus’s growth.)
While iron deficiency anaemia is routinely (and usually successfully) treated with iron supplements, the underlying cause also needs to be addressed. If not, once you stop the supplements, you’ll slowly become anaemic again.
And if the anaemia is extreme enough, iron supplements may not always work to solve the problem, leading to the need for iron injections or even blood transfusions.
Anaemia and uterine fibroids
Women with uterine fibroids and the heavy menstrual bleeding that often accompanies them are prone to becoming anaemic – sometimes dangerously so.
In the words of two women who experienced severe anaemia due to their fibroids:
“One day, I returned home from a blood test, to discover that my doctor had left numerous frantic messages on my voicemail. She warned me that my hemoglobin levels were dangerously low! Suddenly, I understood that the heart palpitations and shortness of breath I had endured for months, were a symptom of my 5 hemoglobin level. Normal levels range between 12 & 15, and I was so severely anemic that my body had become accustomed to being ill. It was crystal clear to me, that it was time to take immediate action – my fibroids were not just going to “go away.”
“I finally went in for my annual exam. That same night, my doctor left me a message to go to e.r. My hemoglobin was a 2.4!! So that’s why for the past year I was so tired, fatigued, and out of breath when i would walk 20 steps.”
Don’t wait on anaemia
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of anaemia, along with heavy periods, don’t wait until things get worse. Go and talk to a GP or gynecologist who understands fibroids and their symptoms, and can give you clear, expert guidance.
Being tired is a drag… don’t let it drag you down any longer than it has to.