How to Relieve Rheumatoid Arthritis Fatigue
By Reese Jones, Guest Blogger
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in a person’s body, causing pain and swelling. As a systemic disease, it can affect the whole body, such as the heart, lungs, and other tissues like muscles and cartilage. However, RA most commonly affects joints in the hands, wrists, and feet.
Statistics from the World Health Organization show that RA is a common musculoskeletal condition, affecting around 14 million people worldwide.
Fatigue is a common symptom of the disease due to ongoing inflammation in the body. People living with rheumatoid arthritis describe this fatigue as extreme tiredness that doesn’t go away with more sleep and rest. It is like a hangover that doesn’t end.
Fortunately, there are some lifestyle changes that can help reduce RA fatigue:
Mind your diet
Maintaining a healthy diet can help reduce pain and inflammation, as well as risk of serious, life-threatening complications like heart attacks and strokes. Foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids can decrease the level of inflammation. These fats are found in oily fish, such as salmon and sardines, walnuts, soybeans, and canola oil. Meanwhile, foods you need to avoid include fried and processed foods, sugars and refined carbs, as well as high amounts of salt and preservatives.
The last thing you want to do when you’re in pain is move, but low-impact aerobic exercises, such as walking and stationary cycling, can ease fatigue. Plus, exercise is good for overall mood and heart health. It also strengthens muscles and keeps bones strong. On the days that you’re really tired, some simple stretching can help.
An important part of exercising is also having the right workout gear — and for those with RA that affects the lower body, studies show that the wrong pair of shoes can put pressure on your feet. This can worsen pain and deformities. So when you buy a pair of exercise shoes, pick the right size and shape for your feet.
Follow a healthy sleep routine
Up to 70 per cent of people living with arthritis report sleep issues, including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or waking up early in the morning. These sleep disturbances, also known as insomnia, worsen other symptoms of arthritis including fatigue, pain, and depression, which can negatively affect a person’s quality of life.
To help you get some good quality sleep, establish regular bedtime habits. Follow a wind-down routine at least an hour before bed to help you relax, which can involve some gentle stretches, meditation and soft music. A comfortable sleeping environment is also important — memory foam pillows and mattresses can be helpful for those with RA. Some people also find that using aromatherapy essential oils like lavender helps them sleep better.
Talk to your doctor
If your energy levels don’t improve, go and see your doctor. They can test you for other health issues like anemia and depression, instead of just focusing on rheumatoid arthritis fatigue. The doctor can also prescribe medications for chronic fatigue. You can also ask them if therapy or complementary treatments such as acupuncture and herbal treatment would be helpful to counter your RA fatigue.
Living with rheumatoid arthritis can be very difficult and exhausting. However, alleviating fatigue boils down to listening to your body and taking care of yourself.
The opinions expressed in this article are not those of Arthritis Research Canada. Please always consult your family doctor or rheumatologist before making changes to diet, exercise and medications.