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When Women's Fatigue Signals Danger

Between their families, their jobs, and their household responsibilities, there are lots of reasons why women feel tired.

But many women feel exhausted all the time, to an extent well beyond the average fatigue and that can be an indication of a significant health problem.

To explore this issue more closely, The Early Show asked Marianne Legato, a professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University to

. Legato is a practicing internist in New York City and an expert in women's health issues.

Legato says there are a number of conditions that can make a woman chronically feel tired:

When menstruating women are not eating enough iron, they can become anemic because not enough oxygen is being delivered to their tissue.

Legato says women can have their blood tested for anemia and can treat the condition with vitamin supplements.

Poor Nutrition
Women who go on crash diets and don't get enough nutrition can feel lethargic. Reports say that high-fat, low-carb diets are the worst offenders. Foods that help boost energy include complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread, whole meal rice and pasta, fish, lean meat, fruit and vegetables.

Water Pills or Diuretics
"One of the most frequent causes (of fatigue) are crash diets, where people have bizarre food intakes, poor nutrition," Legato told co-anchor Hannah Storm. "And they couple it with water pills, which lowers their potassium to really dangerous even life-threatening levels."

Thyroid Gland Function
According to the Thyroid Foundation, there are approximately 14 million people in the U.S. who have underactive thyroids and about 70 percent of them are women. Dr. Legato said that the most common type of thyroid disease is called "Hashimoto's thyroiditis". This is an auto-immune condition, in which the person produces antibodies that have an immune response to the thyroid gland.

Adrenal Gland Function
A rare condition in which the adrenal gland, which keeps enough blood and salt circulating in the body, stops functioning can cause people to have low blood pressure and feel exhausted.

Clinical Depression
Significant depression can make a patient extremely tired, craving as much as 16 hours of sleep a day.

Legato warns against what one of her patients calls the "sweat and fret" club, meaning an inclination to lie awake worrying at night.

"if you have a problem that keeps recurring at 3:00 am," she said, "talk to somebody and see if you can't find a solution.

Heart Failure
Heart failure deprives tissues of oxygen, leading to fatigue. This condition can cause someone to feel short of breath from even the smallest activities.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Characterized by an extreme and overwhelming fatigue that doesn't get better with bed rest, it often gets worse with physical or mental activity. Legato says this condition is diagnosed through a process of elimination and sometimes lasts for years. In many cases, the fatigue eventually, mysteriously disappears.

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