Women often burn the candle at both ends and neglect themselves to meet the demands of work, family, and others. When women (or men) are overworked or not getting enough sleep at night, it should come as no surprise that they often feel lethargic and tired toward the end of the day.
But when afternoon slump is more than just a feeling of being run down and tired, there may be another silent culprit to blame for women: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Although PCOS does not affect men, a similar condition called Metabolic Syndrome does affect both men and women.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is the most common cause of infertility in women of child-bearing age, affecting as many as one in every 10 women of child-bearing age. The CDC reports as many as five million women in the United States have PCOS, and many do not know it.
PCOS is a syndrome, not a disease. That means different women will have different symptoms and to varying degrees. Diagnosis requires a careful physical examination of the ovaries (usually done by ultrasound) and lab tests.
A Serious Medical Disorder
PCOS is a very serious medical condition that can lead to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even certain types of cancers. Women with PCOS run a high risk of developing Hashimoto's Thyroiditis (an autoimmune disorder that causes low thyroid disease), and Celiac disease, and an increased risk of premature death. PCOS is most often best treated by a reproductive endocrinologist who can treat both complicated metabolic problems and issues that affect the menstrual cycle and fertility.
Symptoms of PCOS
Symptoms often associated with PCOS vary with individual women, but often include a high sex drive; weight gain; skin tags (acrochordons); changes in color or texture in patches of skin under the arms, neck, groin, or other areas (acanthosis nigricans); excess facial and body hair (hirsutism); loss of scalp hair (alopecia); adult acne; and irregular menstrual cycle.
Women with PCOS also experience a higher rate of miscarriage—four times higher than that of other women—and seem to have a higher rate of irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and thyroid problems.
PCOS tends to run in families and statistically is most likely to be passed on by the father's genes. Although many women with PCOS have problems with weight, not all do. Thin women and even women who have normal periods can still have PCOS. In fact, Kate Gosselin, mother of eight children, has PCOS.
PCOS and Afternoon Fatigue
Women who experience a profound and intense desire to sleep, severe muscle fatigue, nervousness (shaky or jittery), sweating, the shakes, headaches, changes in vision, or any combination of these symptoms may be suffering from hormonal imbalances that can cause rapid changes in blood sugar and insulin levels. These symptoms are not signs of "normal" sluggishness but are often signs of insulin resistance, a common concern for women who have PCOS.
When afternoon slump symptoms worsen or become severe enough that they decrease your ability to complete tasks, you may want to seek advice from a physician to rule out certain health problems, including PCOS. Women with PCOS have an increased risk of developing pre-diabetes, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome, as well as full-blown type 2 diabetes.
If you develop insulin resistance, your body will resist the normal action of insulin. To compensate, the body overproduces insulin to keep blood sugar levels in balance. Overproduction of insulin can cause fluctuations in blood sugar, moodiness, and periods of profound fatigue and hunger.
If you suspect you may have insulin resistance, or that your afternoon fatigue is debilitating or getting worse—especially if you begin to gain weight—call your doctor and arrange for an appointment to talk about possible health problems that could be masking themselves as an afternoon slump. Always consult your doctor if you have any concerns about your health. This article is not intended to be used as medical advice for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition.