Everyone gets tired. But for healthy individuals, it’s nothing that a good night’s rest can’t cure. After hot bath, maybe a massage, and 8 hours of sleep—you’re up and raring to take on the world the next day.
Unfortunately for us, this isn’t always the case. For arthritis sufferers, we experience a level of tiredness medical professionals refer to as fatigue. It’s the kind that disrupts your entire lifestyle. It’s not something that gets better after you get sleep (if you get any sleep at all); and it can affect quality of life and mental health in ways that you didn’t even expect was possible.
A Vicious Cycle
When you suffer from chronic pain and inflammation, fatigue is almost inevitable.
Our body’s immune system is responsible for keeping us healthy. But in the case of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), where our own immune system attacks the body and causes inflammation, our body makes up for it by overproducing proteins called cytokines, thus causing fatigue.
For the most common form of arthritis, called osteoarthritis, where injury or gradual wear and tear of your joints cause chronic pain, it can affect your sleeping pattern. And pain may keep you up at night adding to your exhaustion.
Because the pain isn’t going to go away soon, neither will fatigue. Your pain will keep you up at night, which can aggravate your exhaustion; and when you’re extremely fatigued, it can also cause your pain symptoms to worsen.
What Can You Do?
Understanding how fatigue is tied to arthritis is the first step towards managing it. It’s easy for us to directly blame the pain for our inability to sleep, but learning about what you can do to deal the pain and the various external factors that contribute to it can help you identify ways to manage it.
Certain medications may be causing drowsiness or exacerbating your symptoms of fatigue. Talk to your doctor if you feel exhausted and tired during the day, especially this isn’t the usual case. Review your list of prescriptions. Does it include pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, antihistamines, or corticosteroids? If yes, speak to a healthcare professional about possibly exploring alternative options.
Because of the pain and exhaustion, it’s hard to maintain an active lifestyle. However, unused muscles tend to weaken with inactivity. Understandably, keeping an active lifestyle when you suffer from chronic joint pain and inflammation isn’t always possible. But keep in mind that physical activity, whenever it is possible, can definitely do a lot to manage your symptoms of fatigue.
3. Lack of sleep
Even something as basic as sleeping can be a problem for arthritis sufferers. Finding a comfortable sleeping position or getting woken up in the middle of the night by the pain is a common occurrence. Talk to a healthcare professional about it.
A lot of arthritis sufferers don’t know that there’s a direct connection between your sleep and arthritis, which is one of the reasons why it’s hardly raised during doctor consultations. Informing your doctor that you are unable to get a good night’s rest because of your condition is critical to the quality of care and intervention that you receive.
4. Poor nutrition
Nutrition also plays a critical role in your ability to get quality rest. Your body, especially given its condition, will need a lot of water, vitamins, and minerals. Avoid junk-food and salty food, especially in the evening before going to bed. Swap out sugary drinks for water and green tea. And talk to your doctor about what vitamins and supplements you could take to ensure your health.
A chronic condition like arthritis can be overwhelming. Without knowing exactly what your next steps should be, without anyone to talk to or a great support system, without proper medical intervention, it can take its toll on your mental health. Depression is common among sufferers and it’s been known to cause sleepless nights, which add to exhaustion and fatigue. Be sure to talk to a medical professional about and seek help.
On last thing…
Arthritis sufferers tend to feel guilty when they miss out on little things that they used to enjoy with family and friends. Not only are they reminded of limitations imposed by their condition, it makes them feel like they’re holding their loved ones back from actually having fun. They try not ask for help as they don’t want to be seen as a burden. As a result, they end up isolating themselves from people.
For those who know anyone who suffers from arthritis and fatigue, be mindful about this fact the next time you invite them out for even something as simple as a nightcap after work. Remember that it’s likely they’ve already spent 8 hours at work while feeling pain and was trying to get through the day after a sleepless night.
And for arthritis sufferers, be open about how you feel. Don’t mask your symptoms and pretend everything is OK—communicate to loved ones about what you’re going through.
It’s important to identify what factors contribute to your fatigue so that you can manage it. This list is by no means an exhaustive one, but it’s a great place to start and get a conversation started. And in the spirit of sharing, feel free to comment below and share what other factors contribute to your fatigue.