The inflammatory response associated with autoimmune conditions and arthritis is systemic—meaning it affects the whole body. These conditions can cause a variety of symptoms, including pain, swelling, stiffness, loss of joint function—and fatigue. In fact, fatigue is one of the most common—and frustrating—symptoms.
Fatigue is not the same as tiredness. Everyone feels tired now and then, but fatigue is characterized by an overwhelming lack of energy that is not relieved by sleep.
Many individuals experience an overwhelming sense of fatigue—some describe it as paralyzing. It can have a tremendous negative impact on your energy levels, mood, social interactions, physical activity, and day-to-day life.
Unfortunately, fatigue is part of a vicious cycle—poor sleep and symptom flare can cause fatigue and in turn, fatigue can exacerbate pain and lead to more sleep disturbances.
Fatigue is often worse when the condition is not under control. As such, managing fatigue hinges on managing inflammation. In fact, most doctors treat pain and inflammation, rather than treating fatigue directly. Inflamed joints zap energy. Once the inflammation is under control, fatigue tends to dissipate.
In order to manage fatigue, it’s important to work closely with your doctors to identify the underlying cause—such as pain or inflammation—and then treat it. Anemia is common in RA, PsA, AS, SLE and other chronic inflammatory conditions and may cause or contribute to fatigue. Anemia is also very treatable so its important to work closely with your doctor and make sure you have been evaluated for anemia.
Preventing and Coping with Fatigue
Living successfully means finding ways to cope with fatigue. Follow these tips to keep fatigue at bay:
Sleep: Get plenty of sleep—at least seven to eight hours each night. Healthy sleep habits can help prevent fatigue and pain. For optimal sleep:
- Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and relatively cool.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, exercise, and large meals before bedtime.
- Avoid television, your phone and computers for at least an hour before bedtime.
- Create a soothing bedtime ritual, such as a warm bath or meditation before bed.
Rest: Get plenty of rest throughout the day. Build down time into your day; a simple 15-20-minute break can reenergize you. Take naps if you need them.
Time Management: Plan ahead. Set priorities for the day and create a realistic timeline for accomplishing them.
Pace Yourself: Overdoing it is a surefire way to exacerbate pain and fatigue. Instead, pace yourself and try not to take on too much.
Fatigue Journal: Keep a record of your activities and the associated energy levels. This will help you to track the activities that zap your energy and either avoid them or plan accordingly.