Arthritis Fatigue: I'm Tired of Being Tired

Coping With Fatigue in Chronic Arthritis

Man napping in chair
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There is an endless list of things to do it seems. Where should you start? The more you think about it, all you want to do is go back to bed. You don't have the energy needed just to dig in. Why are you feeling this way? It's as if there is an enemy within battling you—and the enemy is fatigue.

Dealing With Fatigue

Fatigue is a primary symptom of most forms of inflammatory arthritis. Fatigue may be especially debilitating when the disease is active and it greatly impacts daily living.

Many functional difficulties are experienced by people with arthritis and related diseases. When you have chronic arthritis, the extra effort needed to carry out basic tasks involving mobility and movement tires you more than it does a healthy person. Movement can be particularly difficult in the morning when stiffness is the worst. 

Study Shows Disease Impact

One study involving rheumatoid arthritis patients revealed that:

  • 79 percent had some level of difficulty performing housework tasks such as vacuuming
  • 68 percent had difficulties with dressing tasks such as tying shoelaces or doing buttons
  • 64 percent had difficulty climbing a short flight of stairs or taking a bath

Tasks taken for granted by healthy individuals require special effort, forethought, and often dependence on others for people living with rheumatoid arthritis.

Fatigue can be considered an aspect of daily living with chronic arthritis.

Fatigue is a warning by the body that you need rest. Without fatigue as an indicator, you would likely push yourself to do more and cause harm to your body and your joints.

What Causes Tiredness With Arthritis?

There are several factors which cause fatigue:

  • Disease Activity: Fatigue can be caused by the disease itself. Fatigue is a known symptom of arthritis and related diseases and becomes a greater problem during periods of flare in disease activity. Fatigue is a result of the body's reaction to substances released into the bloodstream by activated immune cells.
  • Physical Inactivity: You may have even more fatigue if you are sedentary. Spending time in light activity rather than sitting can reduce fatigue. You may have been limiting movement as routine tasks are more difficult and seem to result in fatigue and pain. However, you need to be wary of inactivity.
  • Sleep Deprivation: The pain and discomfort of arthritis lead to interrupted sleep patterns for many sufferers. One arthritis study revealed more than half of the participants complained of interrupted or shortened sleep cycles due to their disease.
  • Emotional Factors: A person can also become fatigued because of how they feel emotionally as well as physically. Feelings of depression, boredom, worry, or unhappiness can be sources of exhausted energy.
  • Anemia: A low number of red blood cells and/or hemoglobin is common in people who have chronic inflammatory arthritis. Fatigue can be a physical effect of anemia. The severity of the fatigue is proportionate to the severity of the anemic condition.
  • Medication: Medications are used to cause chemical changes in the body and fatigue can be a resulting side effect. As with any side effect, the level of fatigue can be drug specific or dosage dependent.
  • Obesity: When you are overweight, it takes more energy to move and you may have more problems with sleep apnea and sleep disturbances.

Coping With Fatigue

The key responses to fatigue include:

  • Keep Moving: Reduce inactivity by wearing a pedometer or fitness band, especially one that alerts you when you have been inactive. Participating in regular exercise may also help reduce symptoms of chronic fatigue. Discuss appropriate exercises with your doctor or physical therapist.
  • Mind: Studies have shown the benefits of reducing depression and stress when you have fatigue. Look into cognitive-behavioral therapy and stress-reduction techniques. You might explore yoga or tai-chi and get the benefits of light physical activity as well as mindfulness exercises. 
  • Rest Periods: Rest is the most obvious solution to coping with fatigue. When the body signals that it has reached a physical limit, a short nap or sleep period is the needed response. By responding with a rest period, you give the body a chance to regain control.
  • Engage Others: Let your friends, family, and co-workers know that at times you will need to protect your energy levels and may need help with some errands.
  • Eat Well: Pay attention to what you eat and choose nourishing foods that provide a full range of healthy nutrients. If you are overweight, work with a dietitian for an appropriate diet to achieve a healthy weight.
  • Planning: Planning, scheduling activities, and pacing yourself can help minimize the intrusion of fatigue. Limiting the number of strenuous activities, allowing interspersed rest periods, and remaining flexible can favor preserving energy.
  • Prioritize: Prioritizing activities helps curtail fatigue. Important activities should be done first before energy becomes depleted and less significant activities can be delayed if needed.
  • Organize: Whenever possible reorganize to make things more convenient. Keeping things within reach or nearby can be energy saving mechanisms.
  • Sleep Environment: Pay attention to sleep hygiene and keep the TV, laptop, and cell phone out of the bedroom so you have less stimulation that can make it hard to fall asleep.

Sources:

Cramp F, Hewlett S, Almeida C, et al. Non-pharmacological interventions for fatigue in rheumatoid arthritis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2013. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd008322.pub2.

How to Beat Arthritis Fatigue. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/pain-management/fatigue/beat-fatigue.php.

Why Having Arthritis Can Cause Fatigue. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/pain-management/fatigue/fatigue-and-arthritis-pain.php

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