Fatigue is a state of mental and/or physical weakness. When you are fatigued, you feel exhausted and tired. Accomplishing even the simplest of daily task becomes a chore.
Fatigue and weakness is a universally common symptom in RA, with clinically relevant fatigue affecting an estimated 40% to 80% of people with the disease. One study found that fatigue was closely associated with the level of pain that an individual patient experienced and was most severe in patients with comorbid chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia and other RA-associated health conditions, such as those affecting heart and lung function.1
Fatigue can also be one of the most disabling symptoms associated with RA. Studies have shown that fatigue related to RA is strongly associated with poor sleep and high levels of functional disability, pain, and depressive symptoms.1-3
How can I manage my fatigue?
The first step in successfully managing fatigue is to understand its cause or causes. You and your doctor have many different tools you can use to overcome fatigue, once you’ve figured out what’s causing it. For instance, if you are fatigued because of poor sleep resulting from pain, you can work with your doctor to address the problem. If you are not getting enough exercise and have lost strength and endurance, you can work with your physical therapist to start an exercise program to get back in shape so you’re less likely to get fatigued.
What can I do about fatigue resulting from RA symptoms?
RA symptoms such as joint pain and stiffness can make it difficult to carry out daily tasks. The extra energy that you spend may leave you fatigued. One approach to beating this kind of fatigue is to learn how to conserve energy. You can take many different steps to become smarter about how you use your energy and more efficient in the way you carry out tasks.
While technology can make life easier, there is no substitute for old fashion organization when it comes to making everyday tasks less energy demanding. Here are just a few ideas about how organization can save you energy.
Workplace accommodations. Get a parking place close to your workplace and an office close to the restroom. Shift to a flex-time schedule so you can work when you’re at your peak energy level.
Get organized at home. Try to streamline as many household tasks as you can, from cooking to making your bed. Setting out all of your ingredients and pots and pans before starting to cook can save time and energy.
Ask for assistance when you need it. Pick and choose what you want to do. You don’t have to do everything. Ask for help with some chores or hire someone to take care of certain duties. You can save a lot of time and energy this way.
What can I do about fatigue that is a side effect of a drug that I am taking?
Fatigue can be a side effect of many different drugs. Talk to your doctor about which medications might be causing you to have less energy. For instance, many patients complain of fatigue after taking the disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) methotrexate. Taking a folic acid supplement along with methotrexate can be an effective way to counteract this and other side effects associated with the drug.
What can I do about fatigue that results from sleep problems?
There are many reasons why a person with RA may not be getting enough sleep, from stress and depression to joint pain. You can work with your doctor (and perhaps a sleep expert) to determine the cause of sleep problems. There are a variety of solutions depending on the specific problem, from medications that can help deal with nighttime pain to drug and non-drug treatments for depression and other emotional problems.
What can I do if I get fatigued because I’m out of shape?
Deconditioning or loss of muscle and stamina from lack of exercise can be at the root of fatigue. Ask your doctor for advice. He or she may be able to suggest a physical therapist or personal trainer who can help you get active and rebuild muscle and strength.