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RA: Tips to Manage Your Fatigue

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By Camille Noe Pagán
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by David Zelman, MD

Coping Strategies to Relieve RA Fatigue and Weakness

If you have rheumatoid arthritis and often feel tired, you’re hardly alone: More than 80% of people who have it say it causes fatigue.

You might also find that weakness -- either all over or in areas of your body affected by RA -- gets in the way of things you used to do with ease, whether it’s opening a jar or doing your favorite exercise routine. But if you know how to manage these symptoms, you can make sure they don’t derail your day.

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Strength training is good for you. It builds your muscles and helps protect joints that are affected by arthritis. “Strength training is something that I recommend across the board to my RA patients,” says Marvin Smith, DPT. He’s a physical therapist at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. Put your joints to work to help yourself feel better and do more. Lifting weights on a regular basis curbs pain. It also helps you move better. That will allow you to do activities that may now...

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The first step is to understand why you feel this way. “Your body only has a certain amount of energy,” says David Borenstein, MD. He's a clinical professor of medicine at The George Washington University Medical Center. “RA causes inflammation, which creates heat, and it directs blood flow to parts of your body affected by arthritis, too. So RA itself uses a lot of your energy, which can make you feel tired and weak.”

Research also shows that RA pain can cause fatigue. Weakness results from number of factors, like pain, stiffness, and loss of muscle mass caused by a lack of activity. 

Take these steps to boost your energy and strength -- and get back to doing the things you love.

Talk to your doctor. Many people with RA think that feeling crummy is normal. Instead “exhaustion can be a sign that you’re in the middle of a flare or may need to adjust your treatment plan,” says Susan Goodman, MD. She's a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “Controlling your disease with arthritis medication can lead to a significant improvement in your energy and prevent joint damage that would make weakness worse.”

See your rheumatologist if you:

  • Can’t get through your day without napping
  • Feel more tired than usual
  • Have signs of an arthritis flare -- morning stiffness that lasts more than an hour, or tenderness and swollen joints

Go easy on yourself. Even if your RA is under control, there may be times when you’re extra tired. On those days, take some mid-day “down time.” Chill out at your desk, read a book, meditate, call a friend, or take a short nap.

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