Sick and tired? They might be one and the same

Family Matters

November 02, 2003|By Susan Reimer

I TOOK ONE OF THOSE ONLINE quizzes on a health Web site, and as soon as I hit the "enter" key, the screen flashed this result:

"You are significantly sleep-deprived. See your physician!"

The bad news came back at me so fast that I wondered if the Web master knew somehow that I was a perimenopausal working mother of teen-agers and just assumed I wasn't getting any sleep.

But, like so many women, I did not make an appointment to see my doctor about it.

Tiredness is such a common condition among my kind that we just shoulder through it.

Perhaps we will mention it when we see the doctor for something else, but we rarely make the effort to find out why we are so tired all the time.

Dr. Kimberly Peairs, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, a practicing internist and the mother of two small children, will attempt to help women answer that question.

She will conduct one of 32 discussion groups Saturday at the ninth annual "A Woman's Journey," a health seminar for women sponsored by Hopkins.

"When they asked the women last year what topics they were interested in, this was one of the winners," said Peairs.

"I hope to give women a framework about how they can think about fatigue. When it becomes so worrisome that they should think of underlying medical issues."

Sometimes there are reasons -- beyond our crazy schedules -- why we feel so tired. From something as simple to detect as anemia to the complex and

mysterious chronic fatigue syndrome.

Perhaps we are drinking coffee too late in the day or maybe we are depressed.

Sometimes the medication we are taking for something else is making us tired or too restless to sleep. But perhaps there is something wrong with our lungs or heart.

"Under-active thyroid disorders are relatively common and there is a predominance for women," said Peairs. "And one of the symptoms is fatigue. It is very common, very easy to diagnose and very treatable."

There is a difference between "fatigue" and just plain "tiredness," and Peairs wants to help the women who sign up for her seminar to learn the difference.

"The strict definition of fatigue is the sensation of being exhausted during routine activities," she says.

"Tiredness implies sleepiness. Something that can be cured with a good night's sleep.

"But these things are incredibly difficult to sort out, for patients and physicians alike."

For women, fatigue also can mean depression, and that, too, is difficult to sort out.

"Sometimes you can't," said Peairs. "Sometimes you treat for depression because one can be driving the other. We treat for depression to see if that helps the symptoms."

Women often try to stave off their tiredness with supplements or ensure a good night's sleep with over-the-counter sleep aids. But Peairs warns that such self-medication may mask a real problem.

But she understands the urge a woman might feel to find a way to just keep on going.

"Hey, I'm female. I have two kids. I am married to a physician. I get it. We are all living the rat race."

Then she admitted, "I don't go to my doctor and say I am tired a lot. When I am tired, I know why.

"But if someone comes into my office and says that, then I know it is an issue for them. It warrants jumping through the hoops to make sure nothing else is going on.

"Maybe their lifestyle is crazy. Or they are under a lot of stress.

"Sometimes it just helps to sit down and talk to somebody about it."

About the seminar

A Woman's Journey, sponsored by Johns Hopkins Medicine, will be held Saturday from 8:15 am to 4:15 p.m. at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel at 700 Aliceanna St. The fee is $65, $45 for students. For more information or to register, call 410-955-8660 or visit / awomansjourney / .

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