Fatigue can be an overwhelming symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Most people know what it feels like to stay up too late and drag through the next day. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than one-third of healthy adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.
Fatigue vs. Feeling Tired: Two Different Experiences
People living with chronic diseases, like arthritis, often feel more than tired. Fatigue is the experience of long-lasting, seemingly relentless exhaustion that isn’t relieved by resting. Fatigue can impact a person’s energy and ability to concentrate. It can also lead to emotional and psychological distress, according to research published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research. Fatigue is a common aspect of arthritis and chronic diseases such as depression, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, COPD, and many, many others.
How Rheumatoid Arthritis and Other Chronic Diseases Cause Fatigue Symptoms
There are many reasons why chronic disease can cause fatigue. “Fatigue is extremely common and is associated with significant and oftentimes disabling consequences in patients with chronic diseases,” explains Vinicius Domingues, MD, a medical adviser to CreakyJoints and a rheumatologist based in Daytona Beach, Florida. “Fatigue can be related to the underlying disease, especially when it’s an inflammatory disease such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or it might be a consequence to certain medications. Often, patients are anemic (or have low iron), which can also increase their fatigue,” he says.
Dealing With Inflammation Saps the Body’s Energy Levels
In addition, a study showed that 95 percent of patients with RA report suboptimal levels of energy that impact their quality of life. There is a biological explanation for it, says Dr. Domingues: “When there is an inflammatory process, such as RA, lupus or ankylosing spondylitis, your immune system is constantly producing and carrying inflammation and, therefore, using energy.”
Importantly, chronic fatigue syndrome, also called myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME/CFS, differs from fatigue. ME/CFS is a complex disease characterized by extreme fatigue that is not associated with an underlying medical condition and lasts for six months or longer. Researchers don’t know what causes it, but they do know that it will often worsen with physical or mental activity, according to a consensus report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.
What Is It Like to Live With Arthritis Fatigue?
Recently, CreakyJoints, an online patient support group for people living with arthritis, asked its members to describe their fatigue. We heard:
- “After I have a flare, I’m knocked out the next day.”
- “Fatigue is not being tired; tired improves with rest, fatigue doesn’t.”
- “[Fatigue] sure isn’t fun. It’s hard to make people understand, and then the guilt on top of it, for something we have zero control over.”
Accepting Fatigue as a Symptom of Disease
Domingues notes, “One thing I usually recommend to my patients is accepting fatigueas part of their disease in the same way that joint pain is a feature. By accepting it, patients will try to find a way to better deal with it. Afternoon naps (that should not last more than 30 minutes) are very useful in ‘recharging the battery’ and providing an extra boost in energy to carry out the day. Some of my patients with lupus will plan their day and place a slot for 25 minutes after lunch in their schedule dedicated for a quick nap.”
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