In the United States, 33.7 million people live with some type of mental health issue. Studies show that prolonged fatigue is linked with anxiety and depression and all too often we assume that these symptoms emotionally driven without taking the time to rule out potential physical triggers, such as hypoglycemia, anemia or even possible drug interactions.
In part, this is because differentiating fatigue from anxiety and depression is hard to do and those suffering often don’t know what questions to ask.
I always recommend that people begin by describing their symptoms to their primary healthcare providers as fatigue rather than anxiety or depression. The medical questions around fatigue can be answered with a number of blood tests. Be sure to ask for the following labs:
- CBC rules out overt anemia.
- Comprehensive metabolic panel rules out liver and kidney problems and identifies issues with glucose regulation (prediabetes and diabetes directly affect brain function).
- CRP is a metabolic marker implicated in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and depression.
- Ferritin levels below 50 correlate with increased fatigue, especially in women.
- Hemoglobin A-1 C is a marker for diabetes. Studies have shown that diabetes predicts depression and depression predicts diabetes. A1C should be below 5.7 to be considered normal.
- Homocysteine levels (a Vitamin B marker) greater than 12 indicate a 70% increase in risk of depression.
- Lipid panel is important in diagnosing cardiovascular disease. Additionally, when total cholesterol is below 120, suicidal ideation increases.
- TSH rules out hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
While there is a cost for running these labs, the cost of treating fatigue strictly as an emotional symptom is even higher. A recent article in Money magazine states that the treatment costs for mental disorders is more expensive than treatment of diabetes or hypertension– and that the cost falls mostly to the patients. Insurance companies put up road blocks for receiving mental health treatment, finding in-network care can be challenging and, if you do, the cost of prescribed medications is high. Very often, mental healthcare is a budget buster. Particularly if the primary care provider, prescriber, or therapist have not addressed the true problem – Fatigue. Nutritional studies are showing that poor nutrition and dysfunctional physiology cause 50% of the symptoms of fatigue.
I've created a sample letter requesting the above blood work from your primary care physician that you can use to help start this discussion.
In addition to asking your healthcare provider for the lab work, I have seen the following self-care steps help in relieving fatigue:
- Walk outside everyday – move your body for at least 10 minutes.
- Be in bed for 8 hours a night – even if you’re not sleeping, the rest is helpful.
- Eat protein with every meal.
If these steps feel hard, ask yourself what you can do to make it happen. Don’t think of it as a lifestyle change, but consider it an experiment. Start with one of the above steps and commit to doing it for at least 3 days to see if it helps.
If there was one solution for fatigue, everyone would be doing it. Ask your provider to rule out the most common causes of fatigue/depression. It may not be all in your head ─ it may be that your body needs help.