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Warning: Wall Ahead

Warning: Wall Ahead

Exhaustion can hit anyone. I imagine that any person in a busy phase of life can feel worn out. However, living with rheumatoid arthritis/rheumatoid disease (RA/RD) often means that I experience these times more often than my healthier peers, and that exhaustion has additional physical ramifications.

For instance, when my husband is working long hours and not getting enough sleep, he is tired in the evenings and wants to go to bed earlier than usual. However, after a good night’s sleep, his energy is back to normal. When I feel spent of energy, I experience fatigue that goes beyond exhaustion. A good night’s sleep may be unattainable due to the achiness that often accompanies this fatigue, and even if I am able to get significant rest, it may not put a dent in my fatigue.

Battling exhaustion from RA

This experience is common for people with this disease. While pain and inflammation are the celebrity RA/RD symptoms, fatigue is a belligerent B-lister that can wreak havoc on people living with this condition. RA/RD fatigue can be as problematic as pain, making it difficult to make it through a day, a task, or even a full-fledged thought.

Consequences of pushing the limit with exhaustion

In addition to fatigue, if I overdo it I experience other physical consequences. As RA/RD is an autoimmune disease, my immune system doesn’t function optimally. Instead of solely fighting germs and viruses, my confused immune system is instead targeting my joints and tissue. Over the years I’ve realized that when I am run down, I am at a higher risk of having a flare or getting sick. I’ve also realized that there are some physical warning signs my body gives me that it is running on empty and headed toward illness or a flare.

Warning signs of RA exhaustion

Susceptibility to flares or infections

If I have one busy day or engage in a strenuous (or strenuous-for-me) activity, I’m prone to what I call an “activity hangover,” where I have mild fatigue and achiness that lasts a day or two. However, when I’m really run down, these symptoms last day after day. In addition, I experience recurrent low-level infections such as cold sores and yeast infections. I also begin to lose my voice, sounding raspy but without a sore throat.

These warning signs are like the gas light that comes on when a car’s fuel tank is near empty. However, unlike a car, if I fail to fill my tank with some much-needed rest, my body won’t slow to a stop. Rather, it will crash into the wall of a flare or a significant viral or bacterial infection.

Thankful for the warning signs

It’s really hard to take time to rest in the midst of a busy and/or stressful phase of life. However, if I ignore my voice that’s become husky, telltale cold sores, or fatigue, my body will become so sick or in so much pain that I have no choice but to rest.

RA/RD is extremely unpredictable and can flare up without any warning whatsoever. That being said, rarely does it work the other way around where my warning signals do not result in significant consequences should I fail to heed them. While I often feel frustrated that my energy level becomes depleted more quickly than my peers, I’m trying to realize that my pesky and unpleasant physical warning signs are actually a gift that can help me avoid some illnesses and flares if I take heed and give my body the rest it needs.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • BeccaFloyd
    16 hours ago

    I can certainly relate! On Saturday, my husband and I went kayaking for the first time in 3 years. We used to go often, but life intervened and so I was very excited about getting back on the horse (kayak). We chose a river route just outside of the city where we live, that we had heard was for beginners, and that offered beautiful scenery along the way. They were right about the scenery, an adult moose came down to drink just feet from us, we saw white tailed deer, and innumerable species of birds and water fowl. However, 6 miles of constant paddling later, I was just about in tears from the pain emanating through my wrists and shoulders. A “beginner’s” paddle, it was not! I have no regrets in undertaking this adventure and chance to make memories with my husband, however today, four days later and our 10th anniversary, I’m unable to muster the energy to simply get ready for a nice dinner out to celebrate. Instead, my wonderfully understanding husband is bringing the nice dinner home, to enjoy in the comfort of my yoga pants and heating pads! Life with RA is a constant juggling of deciding which activities are worth the repercussions I will inevitably face. Each decision has its consequences, whether it be the guilt of feeling like I’ve missed out on a important event or a chance to experience something new, or the flip-side of taking the leap and doing it anyways, and paying the price through increased pain and fatigue. Only we can know what is best for us in these situations, and it’s a constant learning curve. I’m doing the best I can to learn the right balance each and every day.

  • flyingcars
    21 hours ago

    Great article, sadly no one will really understand! I can see my husband reading this saying, “yeah I know!”, but then getting upset when I can’t form sentences, or do chores. It makes me feel better knowing my experience isn’t unusual though. I feel my RA never really goes away & its the fatigue that disables me the most. The pain sucks too, but the fatigue/insomnia & constant need for solid/good sleep/rest is what no one really gets! I sometimes can only sleep for an hour or 2. And just because I was sleeping, or trying to sleep, is no guarantee I will feel better, but it’s all I have to feel better. And when it does work, I feel so elated that I have a half a day or even a few hrs of energy, or just mental/physical “clarity”.

    I even stopped taking my pain meds because I thought they were causing my sleepiness, but 6 weeks after weaning off, I’m even more exhausted than ever! I went thru a sleepy phase for almost a week, like I could barely stay awake if sitting down! I had no choice but to sleep. But I have serious insomnia most of the time, these weird sleep fests are like every 6 to 8 weeks & usually last a week. I’m usually extra stressed, but not always, so it really makes me wonder how controlled my RA really is.

    Pain is probably the biggest unmitigated stressor though, I wish people would understand Rx pain relief is generally effective & safe with supervision & common sense. We have real chronic pain, not just chronic complaining about it. I hate summer too, it’s the worst for me!

  • Indigo2
    22 hours ago

    yes, fatigue & the “invisible” pain that no one else can understand….keep on moving as much as we can

  • jack5225
    23 hours ago

    This is the best article I have ever read about the discriptions of RA and the various hazards that can take you down for days or even weeks. I knew this but have such a hard time trying to explain to friends and family. Thank you! Great writing, Tamara Haag.

  • 2mra
    1 week ago

    You’re right as rain Tamara(supposed to rain today 🙂 ). I dislike this subject since it has wrecked many of my plans. I should be feeling fine and yet, I am not.

    This is one of our weeks vacation. I was at the cottage with the rest of our family but I had to leave after three days. They are up earlier making noise so that I couldn’t sleep. I even wore my ear plugs
    which didn’t help much. They didn’t mean to make noise but life is noisy. I asked my hubby to drive me back home because I NEED MY SLEEP.

    Thankfully, they are old enough to look after themselves. They’ll be home on Sat. I enjoyed myself just as much being home, having naps when I need them. I’m still tired but rested. f that makes sense. Thank you for the article Tamara and get some sleep. 🙂

  • flyingcars
    21 hours ago

    When your vacation is no longer a vacation, one clearly has a nasty chronic illness. I don’t even try anymore. Home is where it’s at for me!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 days ago

    Hi 2mra,

    I’m sorry that you can relate and that you had to upend your travel plans, but bravo to you for taking care of yourself, listening to your body, and giving it what it needed. I hope that the time alone at home was restful and nourishing. I am getting over a travel hangover myself (, so I feel you . . . literally!

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience, as it helps all of us contending with this disease know that we’re not alone.

    Wishing you all the best,

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    1 week ago

    I also lose my way when my tank hits empty. Thankfully, Sheryl tends to help me over these times. I wonder what might happen if the price of the refill might hit an embargo and the fuel tank may remain empty.

    So for me, I am working on a strategic Rick refill reserve. So far it includes 4 cases of peanut butter. But just so we keep this a secret dont tell anyone who is hoarding Peter Pan Peanut butter. I am just saying.

  • Indigo2
    22 hours ago

    so cute…peanut butter can be a life saver 🙂

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 days ago

    Oh Rick, your comments never fail to bring a smile to my face! Thank goodness for supportive spouses . . . and peanut butter. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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