Does Fatigue Impact Lives of Osteoarthritis Patients?

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Question: Does Fatigue Impact Lives of Osteoarthritis Patients?

Fatigue is typically associated with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and other inflammatory rheumatic conditions. Fatigue is not typically related to osteoarthritis -- or is it?

Fatigue in osteoarthritis is not routinely evaluated in the doctor's office and it has been the focus of only a few studies. The studies focused on osteoarthritis patients who were under the care of a rheumatologist -- and that's the minority of osteoarthritis patients, not the majority.

Does fatigue play a role in osteoarthritis? Do osteoarthritis patients feel fatigue affects their lives?


In a study that was conducted in 2004 and published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders in May 2008, osteoarthritis patients explained that they had notable amounts of fatigue which substantially impacted their lives.

The Study Format

There were 8 focus groups -- 28 men and 18 women who had symptomatic knee osteoarthritis or hip osteoarthritis. The study participants completed a self-administered questionnaire that included questions about demographics, the severity of osteoarthritis, depression, and fatigue. Sessions were audiotaped, then transcribed, and the transcription was reviewed.

Study Results

The mean or median:

  • pain score was 8.7/20
  • disability score was 27.8/68
  • depression score was 15.4/60
  • fatigue score was 30.9/52

Fatigue was described by study participants as exhaustion, being tired, and coming up against a brick wall.

Participants generally viewed fatigue as different from sleepiness and they drew a distinction between physical and mental fatigue.

When asked what factors increase fatigue, participants replied:

Mental health was said to affect fatigue and be affected by fatigue.

Participants also said fatigue impacted their physical function, including their ability to participate in social activities and other usual daily activities (such as household chores). As a solution to the fatigue-related problems, study participants said they rest, exercise, avoid activities, or get assistance with activities. Interestingly, study participants revealed that they did not discuss their fatigue with anyone other than their spouse.

More research was recommended to explore the role of fatigue in osteoarthritis and to develop strategies that would minimize the impact of fatigue on daily living for osteoarthritis patients. But it's clear that osteoarthritis is not exempt from the effects of fatigue.

Fatigue in osteoarthritis. A qualitative study. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. Power JD et. al. May 1, 2008.