Rheumatoid arthritis is systemic, which means it affects your whole body, not just your joints. It can leave you feeling vaguely unwell and tired. Sometimes people with RA say they feel like they're getting over the flu. They're tired, draggy. Does this sound like you? It's hard to live with the fatigue of RA, but there are some things you can do.
Are you beating yourself up for feeling fatigued?
You can't always control or predict RA fatigue. It exists, and sometimes you need to take some time off to feel better. Anyone with RA does. So give yourself permission to rest and feel better. Family and friends may not always understand. You don't need to offer a complicated explanation. Just say, “I need to rest right now.” If you don't acknowledge your RA fatigue, or if you get angry about it, you may inadvertently make your fatigue worse.
Also keep in mind that fatigue, pain, and depression are kissing cousins. If you think you might be depressed, talk to your doctor. Antidepressants can sometimes help relieve fatigue as well as depression. Talk therapy may be able to help you reframe how you think about your condition and teach you ways to better handle the pain.
Do you get enough physical activity?
When you're tired, you don’t feel like exercising. That’s to be expected. But exercise can actually give you more energy. In fact, studies show that aerobic activity can significantly reduce fatigue when you have an autoimmune disorder like rheumatoid arthritis. Exercise also helps strengthen the muscles around your joints. It keeps your bones strong. And it improves your mood! Start with a few minutes of brisk walking and gradually work up to 30 minutes at least 5 times a week. Another good option is swimming or pool exercises. Working out in the water is easier on your joints.
Are you getting regular rest breaks every day?
Rather than staying in bed, which might actually make you feel more tired, try taking regular rest breaks throughout the day. Find balance and compromise that fits your life. Are you more productive in the morning? Then schedule some rest at noon. Do you need to regain energy before the kids get home from school? Then take a nap shortly before they get home. Two or three short rest breaks may give you the energy you need to spring back.
Is your diet helping or hurting your energy levels?
Eating healthy can make a difference in your fatigue. Small, healthy meals throughout the day prevent you from feeling sluggish from low blood sugar. Go for foods and snacks that include protein and complex carbs. Try an apple with peanut butter, or some tuna fish on whole grain bread. Is your idea of breakfast a cup of coffee to go? Add a hard-boiled egg, or a cup of yogurt, or a banana to your morning. Healthy food throughout the day may help you keep your energy up.
Have you been checked for anemia?
Having RA increases your risk for anemia, which can cause fatigue. With anemia, your body doesn't have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body. The result: you feel tired, sluggish. Anemia can develop from the chronic inflammation of RA or as a side effect of your medications. Fortunately, it can be treated. Ask your doctor about how often you need testing for anemia.