02/08/2012 04:46 pm ET Updated Apr 09, 2012

If You're Not Feeling Like Yourself, Here's What You Need to Know

In the midst of a cold, gray winter, with daylight ending before 5 o'clock, its no wonder that many of us feel tired and have little energy. However, if you find yourself thinking, I just don't feel like myself, then it's time for you to take action. But before you do, see if any of the symptoms below, fit with how you are feeling.

  • In addition to feeling tired to your core, you may also feel cold when those around you feel that the room temperature is comfortable. You may have noticed changes in your bowel habits with new onset of constipation along with weight gain and a heavier menstrual flow. Your skin may have become very dry, your fingernails thinner than ever and your eyebrows may be disappearing. If this is the case, ask your doctor to check a TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) level. An underactive thyroid gland may be the cause of these symptoms and an elevated TSH level (which reflects a low thyroid hormone level) is an excellent and inexpensive way to screen for this problem.
  • If you feel weak (like you are just out of gas) and you are also having difficulty concentrating, you should examine your skin to see if it looks pale, your eyes to see if the whites look blue and your nails to see if they are brittle. If you have noticed that you are getting short of breath on minimal exertion and your tongue is sore then you should ask your doctor to check a CBC (complete blood count). Iron deficiency anemia is determined by checking the red blood count (hemoglobin) which will be low. Heavy menstrual periods often because of uterine fibroids (common in Blacks), stomach ulcers and even cancer of the intestinal tract are common causes of this type of anemia.
  • In addition to feeling fatigued, you may have noticed that you are thirsty all of the time and have to go to the bathroom to urinate much more than usual. Although you feel hungry you are actually loosing weight. Look at the skin on your neck, to see if it has a dark, velvety appearance (a condition called acanthosis nigricans). If the answer is yes, you should have your doctor check a FBS level (fasting blood sugar). With diabetes, your fasting blood sugar level will be elevated even when you have not had anything to eat for a 12-hour period.
  • If you would characterize your fatigue as extreme, have you also noticed a troubling loss of appetite along with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea? You may have also noticed sores inside of your mouth and an overall darkening of the color of your skin including the lines on your palms. Ask your doctor to check a cortisol level. An underactive adrenal gland does not produce enough of the hormone, cortisol, and the blood level will be low at certain times of the day.

If you feel that your symptoms are consistent with one of the disorders described above, see your doctor right away and discuss the possibility with him or her. If your symptoms are not consistent with those diseases, try simple measures like allotting a full eight hours of sleep each night, changing a diet laden with sugar and carbohydrates to more fruits and vegetables, drinking more water (avoid soda and caffeinated beverages) and begin exercising by walking for 20 minutes three times per week (easy to accomplish by getting off the bus a few blocks early or parking further from your place of work). If after a few weeks you are not feeling better, then it is time for you to consult with your doctor.