When being tired signals health issues beyond sleep deprivation

Kinderling News & Features

God I am tired.

It’s not the kind of tired I felt when my children woke through the night. That was a kind of tired I felt across the surface of my body. In my dried-out eyes, my sluggish feet. The deepest it went was my brain, which was constantly muddled.

This is different. This tiredness feels bone deep. It feels like I could lie down on a bed disappear into blissful oblivion. Sometimes I lose thoughts. They don’t get muddled, they just disappear.

This tiredness, it turns out, is what it feels like to be anaemic. I wouldn’t normally notice it, as I figure being tired is as much a part of parenthood as the feeling of crushed Nutri-Grain under my feet or the waft of a wet nappy first thing in the morning. Not pleasant, but part of the experience.

Then I went to the doctor for a check-up and got a blood test. Turns out I am anaemic.

How does one become anaemic?

There are a few ways that you can become anaemic, but let’s look at one of the more common ways for women – iron deficiency.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 38 percent of 19 to 50-year-old women have an inadequate iron intake. Part of the reason we’re so susceptible to iron deficiency is that, you guessed it, we lose blood every month.

Being iron deficient can lead to anaemia.

Our bodies can’t manufacture iron, so we need to eat it. We need iron to make haemoglobin, the substance that carries oxygen in the blood. If we don’t keep up our store of iron, eventually we won’t be able to make enough haemoglobin to deliver enough oxygen to our cells.

This is now anaemia - which leaves you feeling lethargic, quick to fatigue and possibly short of breath. You can also look pale, have a headache and possibly experience heart palpitations.

When women need to check in with their doctor

It’s very easy for mums to just assume their tiredness is normal. The only reason I ended up seeing my doctor was because my periods had changed (they were heavier than before). In the ensuing investigations, we had a blood test and hence my diagnosis.

Dr Elysia Thornton-Benko from Bondi Road Doctors says the best way to work out whether your tiredness is related to something other than working your butt off, is to have some rest.

“If we're sleeping well, then we should be considering could there be another cause to us feeling fatigued.”

Listen to Elysia on Kinderling Conversation:

Have a proper day off without running after the kids, cooking all the food and cleaning the house. If after that you’re still feeling tired, it’s time to book in to see your GP.

There are some simple ways to stop iron deficiency before it becomes anaemia

Don’t self-diagnose iron deficiency. Too much iron isn’t good for you either.

But if you see your doctor and you’re iron deficient, there are some simple ways to redress the balance before it becomes anaemia.

Elysia says that if the iron deficiency isn’t severe, you can start by looking at your diet.

Foods with 'haem iron' (iron from animal sources such as meat) are more easily absorbed, while iron in plants (non-haem iron) are not as easily absorbed. For a full list of foods to eat, check out the Health Direct website

We should also avoid tea, coffee, red wine and milk at the time of eating iron rich foods, as these can inhibit iron absorption. Good news is, Elysia says you don’t need to cut them out entirely - just don’t consume them within two hours of your iron-rich meal.

Avoid feeling so tired you could melt away

My doctor recommended an iron infusion, which sounded amazing. I was so excited. In one fell swoop I would recover my zing. Unfortunately I was one of the few that have a reaction to iron infusions, and it was stopped halfway through as I broke out in hives.

Now I’m waiting for the results of a blood test to see how much of the infusion managed to shift my iron levels, and to check my haemoglobin.

To be honest, I was lazy. I knew I was iron deficient, but I stopped taking my iron tablets and didn’t go back to see my GP. It may have been something I could have prevented.

Who knows? But if you are feeling tired, more tired than usual, go to see your GP.

Parenting is hard enough without feeling like this.