Fatigue Adversely Affects Work

Surprise! A new study found that fatigue impacts people with rheumatoid arthritis ability to work.

Scientific validation that fatigue impacts work

I know, this really isn’t a surprise. But I find it helpful when a solid research study verifies my experiences with rheumatoid arthritis.

The researchers conducted two observational studies of people taking etanercept and living with rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis. For over a year they collected data about work disability and symptoms (such as fatigue), along with the interaction between each.

For the people with rheumatoid arthritis, fatigue was associated with presenteeism (or coming to work despite illness, often connected to reduced productivity), activity impairment, work productivity loss, and absenteeism (missing days of work). The researchers concluded that “fatigue has a significant and independent effect” on all of these aspects of work presence and productivity.

Challenges of RA and the fatigue it brings

I’m sure a lot of us with RA can relate to the challenges of grappling with fatigue and work responsibilities. For myself, I’ve lost track of how often I go to work despite not feeling up to par because of exhaustion (or some other symptom or medication side effect). I also know that I miss more work for sick days than I would if I didn’t have RA.

As I said recently to my husband: “Fatigue sucks.” And I truly, deeply mean it.

Lately, I have been struggling even more with my fatigue, finding myself sleeping 12 or more hours on the weekend and still having difficulty getting up and going the next morning. It is a kind of soul-sucking feeling to sleep so much and yet have no energy.

While exercise and good sleep habits help, they have not been a cure-all for my fatigue problems. I just can’t seem to get enough rest to shake the bone tiredness of RA fatigue off my shoulders. It feels like a fog over my whole body. Or a weight that I cannot lift.

"My personal energy crisis"

Recently I jokingly called it “my personal energy crisis.” I have daydreams about somehow sucking the energy off other people and storing it for my own use. If only!

Unfortunately, I also learned that my current RA medication can also cause fatigue as a side effect. Talk about not helping! One of the major reasons to take these medications is to have the RA fatigue alleviated, not aggravated!

While I go through better times where the fatigue is less severe, it is always there haunting me. One of the challenges is that when I tell people that I have RA fatigue most just don’t get it. They think about staying up too late and being sleepy the next day. They don’t understand that I have trouble moving, thinking, being myself because my mind and body is so exhausted it is literally running on fumes. They think I should “get a little extra rest,” not knowing that I could sleep for days and still not find my way free of fatigue.

So with all this doubt and misunderstanding, it feels good to have a study to point to and say: “See! I told you!” Fatigue is not just being tired—it is a life-altering experience that can really wear a person down.

While I’m sad to see evidence of how fatigue affects people with RA at work, I’m glad that I’m not the only one. It makes me feel better to know I am not alone in not always feeling I’m at my best.

But this is also another occasion where I hope researchers note the profound impact of fatigue and continue the search for ways to treat or better cope with this serious RA-related issue.

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