Fatigue Can Be Part of Menopause Transition

Patient Expert

For many women going through menopause, fatigue hits at the most inopportune times. Many times it can be caused by lack of sleep, thanks to our tossing and turning (and sweating) during the night, but other factors may be causing this type of exhaustion. So when is fatigue normal and when do you need help?

Dr. Holly L. Thacker, director of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Specialized Health, believes that when you're going through menopause, fatigue during the day indicates that your body is not getting the necessary amount of rest. "Don't justify daytime drowsiness as 'payback' for running too many errands, being too programmed, or having too much work to do," she wrote in the book, The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause. "You can't expect to live life to its fullest if you aren't sleeping at night."

Dr. Thacker identified six warning signs that you should heed. These signs are:

  • Even if you get a good night sleep, do you feel tired most days?
  • Do you use caffeine as a crutch to get you through the day?
  • Do you find your attention span is less?
  • Do you lack motivation to get started?
  • Do you find yourself snoozing during meetings?
  • Have you noticed your work performance has gone? Or have you avoided family activities or doing hobbies because you feel too tired?

If you think that your fatigue is caused by lack of sleep, you need to take steps to set yourself up for restful sleep. That includes cutting out caffeine and alcohol in the evenings, not eating several hours prior to bedtime, and making your bedroom a calm relaxing place (i.e., ban the computer, television and cell phone from this room).

But you also need to be aware that fatigue can be a sign that something else is going on in your body. For instance, there's also Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), which usually hits in middle-age and tends to affect women more often than men. The Mayo Clinic website stated, "Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complicated disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that can't be explained by any underlying medical condition. The fatigue may worsen with physical or mental activity, but doesn't improve with rest." According to The National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Aging (NIA), CFS can last six months or longer, but isn't related to other diseases or conditions. Its symptoms include memory problems, muscle pain, headaches and tender lymph nodes. The Mayo Clinic noted that there isn't a specific test to confirm the diagnosis of CFS. Instead, you may have to take a number of medical tests so doctors can rule out health issues that have similar symptoms. And treatment of CFS is primarily designed to provide relief from the symptoms.

Fatigue also can be triggered by other health issues, such as rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. The NIA noted that disease treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, can cause fatigue, as can recovering from major surgery. In addition, certain medications such as antidepressants and antihistamines can lead to fatigue (so be sure check the medicine's bottle to see what the side effects are).

Also, emotions such as anxiety, depression, stress and grief can really zap your energy, leaving you feeling rundown. I can definitely speak about since I was initially fatigued by the stress of caregiving for my mom (who had Alzheimer's disease) over a two-year period and then for several more years as I dealt with the ups-and-downs due to grief over her death.

So if you are feeling fatigued, start with the things you can control - your sleep area, your diet and your exercise patterns. If that doesn't work, go visit your doctor to see if you have any other issues that need attention. Fatigue shouldn't be an every-day part of your life but it's up to you to take the proper steps so you can resume living a vibrant and productive life.

Primary sources for this sharepost:
Thacker, Holly L. (2009). The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause. New York: Kaplan.
National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Aging. (2012). Fatigue: more than being tired.