Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of lupus. In fact, most people with lupus have fatigue at some point in their illness.
“When lupus hit, it was like running into a wall at 80 mph,” says Ann S. Utterback, PhD, a broadcast voice specialist in Virginia who was diagnosed with lupus in 2006. “I had been very active my whole life, and the fatigue just knocked me flat. Most days I have about four good hours.”
Experts aren’t certain what causes the fatigue of lupus. In some patients it may be caused by fibromyalgia, a syndrome of widespread muscle pain and fatigue. About one-third of people with lupus have fibromyalgia. In other cases, the fatigue can be caused by another condition, such as anemia or depression. Fatigue can also be a side effect of medication.
If fatigue hinders you, there are ways you can try to increase your energy with lupus. This article offers five key ways to cope with fatigue and boost your energy levels.
1. Treat Underlying Conditions That May Cause Fatigue
“Fatigue with lupus is sometimes caused by an underlying medical problem, such as anemia, fibromyalgia, depression, or a kidney or thyroid problem. And in some cases, it can be a side effect of medication,” says Meenakshi Jolly, MD, MS, director of the Rush Lupus Clinic and assistant professor of medicine and behavioral medicine at Rush University. “In these cases, we can often treat the fatigue by treating the condition or changing the patient’s medication.”
Ask your doctor to check if your fatigue may be related to another condition or a medication. If it is, find out about treatment.
2. Get Regular Exercise to Boost Energy
Although working out may be the last thing you want to do if you’re feeling tired, exercise can actually boost your energy level.
“I started walking as soon as I could,” says Adam Brown, who was diagnosed with lupus in 2007, at age 23. “I couldn’t do much at first, but as soon as I started walking my energy level really jumped. Then I started walking everywhere, and my problems with fatigue literally went away.”
Although Utterback still deals with fatigue, exercise has helped her as well. “When I exercise, I can add another good hour to my day,” she says. “And when I don’t exercise, I definitely feel worse.” Because she experiences joint pain, Utterback usually exercises in a heated pool, which is easy on her joints. But she also walks and lifts weights.
“It’s important to get as much exercise as you can tolerate,” says Jolly. “For some people that may mean just a short walk, while others may be able to do a whole exercise routine. The key is to find what’s right for you. Listen to your body and let it be your guide.”