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  • Dr Penny Adams

Signs your tiredness needs more than just a cup of coffee

Feeling so tired that a coffee just isn’t cutting it?

tired woman

On the podcast, Gogglebox star, Yvie Jones shared how iron deficiency left her fatigued beyond anything she had ever felt before.

Now, Dr Penny Adams shares five signs your exhaustion might actually be iron deficiency.

1. You're unable to fully enjoy the things you used to

The impact of iron deficiency can take a real toll on not only your physical health but also your mental and emotional wellbeing. The chronic fatigue caused by the iron deficiency can mean you’re so exhausted you don’t have enough energy to even spend time with friends, perform your best at work, or enjoy activities you used to. Women often express being so tired they don’t feel fully like themselves and feel regularly irritable. If you’re so fatigued you’re unable to feel comfortable or properly focus on life, that is a sign there is a bigger underlying issue than just ‘feeling a bit tired’.

2. You’re not getting enough (of the right) iron in your diet

Many women are now turning to vegetarian or vegan diets. In my General Practice, I am increasingly seeing young female patients who have decided, for various reasons, that they no longer want to eat meat.

Their decision occurs just at a time when they need an increase in dietary iron as they are having regular periods where they lose blood and the iron it contains. Iron found in foods like meat, chicken and fish (known as haem iron) is more easily absorbed by the body, whereas iron found in plant foods such as vegetables, beans, lentils (known as non-haem iron) is less easily absorbed and quite often a supplement is needed to keep iron levels healthy if you’re relying on these foods as your sole source of iron. If you’re on a meat-free diet, see you GP for a blood test to check your iron levels and talk about whether an iron supplement is right for you.

3. You’re not on the right kind of supplement

There are a lot of popular iron-containing medications on the shelf but many of these don’t actually contain enough iron for adequate replacement. Of those that do, many supplements cause gastro concerns like constipation which can be very unpleasant and you might feel discouraged from continuing treatment. It’s really important to speak to your doctor or local pharmacist about an option that doesn’t make you feel unwell or cause unbearable constipation. You shouldn’t be avoiding treatment if you’re deficient, so always talk your GP because there are other options that act differently on the body and may be better suited - its important you ask the right questions to get one that feels right for you.

4. You’ve been fatigued for more than a month

Many women put off seeing their doctor when experiencing the symptoms of iron deficiency, sometimes waiting up to a few months or even a year before acting on it. Quite often low iron is picked up by chance during tests into a separate health problem. It can be very easy to brush aside the symptoms of iron deficiency as just part of a busy life or juggling work and family, and not see it as something that is actually worth going to the doctor for.

But if the fatigue is lingering for several weeks despite getting enough sleep most nights, then it’s worth getting yourself checked out to see what is really going on.

5. There is something else going on with your body

Iron deficiency can be due to simply not having enough iron in the diet, but it can also be a symptom of a health issue that needs to be managed. Conditions like heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disease and Coeliac disease can lead to low iron - even just normal life stages like pregnancy and breast feeding can affect iron levels. If you have iron deficiency you might also feel breathless or light-headed, or experience hair-thinning and brittle nails - these are other tell-tale signs of iron deficiency.


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