Fatigue and Diabetes
Living with diabetes puts you at risk for several related health and wellness complications. Some we hear a lot about, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetic neuropathy. Others tend to fly under the radar, and “fatigue” is one of these lesser talked about complications related to diabetes.
Fatigue is, in fact, a common symptom of diabetes, and it’s one that can wreak havoc on a person’s mental state if not addressed properly. One study points to the fact that people with diabetes are up to 10 times more likely to experience fatigue than people without the disease.
Before we dig into how diabetes may cause fatigue and what it can do to a person, it’s important to define exactly what we mean by fatigue.
What is fatigue?
The term “fatigue” is often used interchangeably with “tired”, but this is quite inaccurate. We all feel tired once and a while. Perhaps we had a bad night’s sleep, or we’ve been burning the candle at both ends at work. However, when we make an effort to care for ourselves, we begin to feel better. We can take an afternoon nap or make sure we get enough sleep the next night. The point is that feeling tired goes away once we’re well rested.
Fatigue doesn’t work this way. Feelings of exhaustion and lethargy stick around no matter how much rest we get, making it difficult to perform at our best. This can certainly have a negative impact on our daily routines, including sticking to an effective diabetes management program.
As someone living with diabetes, you understand the importance of controlling blood sugar each day, which is why it is important to recognize diabetes-related fatigue and take steps to alleviate it as soon as possible.
How does diabetes cause fatigue?
Hyperglycemia and fatigue
When a person experiences high blood sugar, it means there is an abundance of blood sugar remaining in the bloodstream, and not enough of it is being absorbed into the body’s cells and transformed into energy. This lack of energy can lead to feelings of fatigue. The body is simply not getting the fuel it needs to function properly, and the result is a state of exhaustion, laziness, and just plain feeling blah. It’s not that you’re tired. It’s that your tank is running low.
Hypoglycemia and fatigue
Low blood sugar can also lead to feelings of fatigue, particularly in individuals who experience frequent dips in blood sugar. Feelings of fatigue may continue for a while even after blood sugar has been brought back to target levels.
What are other causes of fatigue related to diabetes?
Diabetes itself isn’t always the direct cause of fatigue; sometimes, it’s due to factors associated with the disease, some of which are known to occur when blood sugar remains elevated for too long a period, and others are simply related to diabetes.
Cardiovascular Disease: This is one of the most common medical concerns related to prolonged high blood sugar, and it is known to contribute to fatigue.
Kidney Disease: Diabetic Nephropathy (kidney disease) can result from both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and is the number one cause of kidney failure in the United States, and fatigue is one of the most commonly reported symptoms.
Obesity: Most people with Type 2 diabetes are overweight, which can make it difficult to engage in physical activity and disrupt sleep patterns. Not moving enough and carrying too much weight puts excess stress on the body, which can lead to fatigue.
Medication: Ironically, some of the medications used to treat diabetes and related health complications, such as cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, and kidney disease, can cause fatigue. The drugs include corticosteroids, statins, diuretics, and beta-blockers.
Mental Health: Managing blood sugar on a daily basis is taxing for anyone, but for some, it can become overwhelming. Studies show that people with diabetes are twice as likely to experience depression as individuals without the disease. Depression certainly can lead to feelings of fatigue and lethargy.
How can you prevent diabetes-related fatigue?
There is no cure-all to prevent fatigue, but there are some things you can do to lessen the likelihood of experiencing it and turn things around if it does occur.
Control your blood sugar
Fluctuations in blood sugar can lead to fatigue, so one of the best things you can do to prevent it is to keep your diabetes well-managed. Test your blood sugar regularly; take your insulin and other diabetes medications according to your doctor-prescribed schedule; if you’re experiencing frequent highs or lows, talk to your doctor about lifestyle or medication changes that might be able to help bring things back under control.
Not only does physical activity help control blood sugar, but it also keeps your blood pumping, your heart working, and your energy levels up. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends 150 minutes of physical activity each week.
Dehydration is a common side effect of hyperglycemia. It can also contribute to feelings of fatigue, so, as someone living with diabetes, it’s important always to make sure you’re drinking enough water.
Eat a healthy diet
Diet is critical when living with diabetes. Not only does what you eat impact blood sugar, it also impacts your weight and overall health. Eating a diet that limits carbs, fats and sugars will make you feel better, and help you avoid fatigue.
Just because you’re feeling tired does not automatically mean you are experiencing diabetes-related fatigue. But if your sense of energy does not return no matter how much sleep or rest you get, you very well might have a problem. If so, try to identify the possible cause. Is your blood sugar under control? Are you eating properly? If you cannot define the cause, it’s time to contact your diabetes physician. The good news is a simple fix or slight adjustment to your diabetes management plan will likely remedy the problem.