As they balance the demands of work and family, it's no surprise women across America are tired. But those yawns, sleepiness and lack of energy could be signs of a bigger problem. And even the unstoppable talk show giant Oprah Winfrey isn't immune.
"This summer I was so exhausted. I couldn't figure out what was going on in my life, obviously I have a really busy schedule," Winfrey said on her show Tuesday. "And I finally figured out I literally had blew out my thyroid."
Winfrey's condition, an out-of-balance thyroid, is not uncommon — 25 percent of women will develop permanent thyroid problems in their lifetime, especially as they approach menopause, according to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.
And while thyroid problems may not be avoidable, there are things women can do to manage them, said Dr. Marie Savard on "Good Morning America" today. (Click here to visit Dr. Savard's Web site.)
"You can get subtle blood tests to get early treatment," said Savard. "Stress may be the trigger, but it is an auto immune disease."
The thyroid controls the energy or metabolism of every cell in the body, she added.
"There are a number of symptoms that might prompt her to want to really go to be checked out — slowing down of your bowels, constipation, and energy level, difficulty sleep or sleeping too much. [A thyroid problem] could also cause fluid retention or weight gain."
In Winfrey's case, she said she not only gained 20 pounds, but found she was sleeping all the time.
Ironing Out Women's Symptoms
Low energy isn't always attributed to thyroid issues, as "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl discovered recently. Her doctor diagnosed her as anemic and prescribed iron pills to help get her back on track.
"I know that I should have been on these iron pills before I got anemic, and what I'm thinking is that I must have had a low grade anemia that was not high enough to trigger any doctor saying you need something," Stahl said. "I've been on them for two weeks. I've only taken [them] for a month, but it's boosted me to a level of feeling great, a sense of wellness."
One in five women, and about half of all pregnant women, are iron deficient, according to the Mayo Clinic. Many are unaware of their condition.
"Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia for women," Savard said. "Treatment is simple and easy and it's something that could really make a huge difference."
But doctors warn against adding too much iron to your diet. "Taking too much iron is not a good idea," Savard said. "It's a heavy metal and certainly could cause toxicity. So you need to work with doctor and get the right diagnosis."
A lack of iron also could be a sign of colon cancer, she added.
If your body is trying to tell you something about your health, said Winfrey, you should listen. "Do not wait until your body turns on you," she said. "Don't wait until you have caused harm to yourself."
Savard emphasized that women must be proactive in their health care and with their doctors.
"You've got to volunteer symptoms," she said.