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I'm Tired of Being Tired

Chronic Arthritis Can Be Exhausting

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Updated June 09, 2014

older woman trying to eat; loss of appetite
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There is an endless list of things to do it seems. Where should you start? The more you think about it, all you want to do is go back to bed. You don't have the energy needed to just dig in. Why are you feeling this way? It's as if there is an enemy within battling you --  and the enemy is FATIGUE.

Dealing With Fatigue

Fatigue is a primary symptom of most forms of inflammatory arthritis. Fatigue may be especially debilitating when the disease is active and it greatly impacts daily living.

The extra effort needed to carry out basic tasks for people with chronic arthritis, involving mobility and movement, tires them more than healthy people. Movement can be particularly difficult in the morning when stiffness is the worst. There exists a wide range of functional difficulties experienced by people with arthritis and related diseases.

Study Shows Disease Impact

One study involving rheumatoid arthritis patients revealed that:

  • 79% had some level of difficulty performing housework tasks such as vacuuming
  • 68% had difficulties with dressing tasks such as tying shoelaces or doing buttons
  • 64% had difficulty climbing a short flight of stairs or taking a bath

Tasks taken for granted by healthy individuals require special effort, forethought, and often dependence on others for people living with rheumatoid arthritis.

Fatigue can be considered an aspect of daily living with chronic arthritis. Fatigue is a warning by the body that you need rest. Without fatigue as an indicator you would likely push yourself to do more and cause harm to your body and your joints.

What Causes Fatigue?

There are several factors which cause fatigue.

Disease Activity

Fatigue can be caused by the disease itself. Fatigue is a known symptom of arthritis and related diseases and becomes a greater problem during periods of flare in disease activity. Fatigue is a result of the body's reaction to substances released in the bloodstream by activated immune cells.

Overdoing

As already discussed, routine and basic tasks are more difficult for people with arthritis than healthy people. These tasks cause more of a drain on the energy level of arthritis patients allowing less energy leftover for other things. As the person pushes to do more and more, fatigue and pain are amplified.

Sleep Deprivation

The pain and discomfort of arthritis leads to interrupted sleep patterns for many sufferers. One arthritis study revealed more than half of the participants complained of interrupted or shortened sleep cycles due to their disease.

Emotional Factors

A person can also become fatigued because of how they feel emotionally as well as physically. Feelings of depression, boredom, worry, or unhappiness can be sources of exhausted energy.

Anemia

A low number of red blood cells and/or hemoglobin is common in people who have chronic inflammatory arthritis. Fatigue can be a physical effect of anemia. The severity of the fatigue is proportionate to the severity of the anemic condition.

Medication

Medications are used to cause chemical changes within the body and fatigue can be a resulting side effect. As with any side effect, the level of fatigue can be drug specific or dosage dependent.

Coping With Fatigue

The key response to fatigue must be energy preservation.

Rest

Rest is the most obvious solution to coping with fatigue. When the body signals that it has reached a physical limit, a short nap or sleep period is the needed response. By responding with a rest period you give the body a chance to regain control.

Planning Ahead

Planning ahead, scheduling activities, and pacing yourself can help minimize the intrusion of fatigue. Limiting the number of strenuous activities, allowing interspersed rest periods, and remaining flexible can favor preserving energy.

Prioritize

Prioritizing activities helps curtail fatigue. Important activities should be done first before energy becomes depleted and less significant activities can be delayed if needed.

Organize

Whenever possible reorganize to make things more convenient. Keeping things within reach or nearby can be energy saving mechanisms.

Exercise / Weight Control

Maintaining a healthy weight and participating in regular exercise may also help reduce symptoms of chronic fatigue.

Sources:

Coping With Rheumatoid Arthritis, by Robert H. Phillips, Ph.D.

Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis, by Stanton Newman et al.; The Duke University Medical Center Book Of Arthritis, by David S. Pisetsky, M.D., Ph.D.

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