Dealing With Fatigue From Crohn’s Disease

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on March 08, 2022

If you have Crohn’s disease, there's a good chance you often have nagging, sometimes debilitating fatigue.

Researchers say about half of folks with Crohn's -- even those in remission -- go through bouts of it. No one has exact numbers, but consider that more than half a million people in the U.S. have Crohn’s. If half of those or more are fatigued, that’s a lot of tired people.

What causes this? And what can you do to fight it off?

Why You're Tired

Wrestling with any chronic disease can be physically and psychologically tough. It’s important to work with your medical team to manage all of that.

Crohn’s fatigue can be from any number of things, some related to flare-ups of the disease, some less so.

They include:

Anxiety, stress, and depression: The emotions of disease -- and the things that come with it -- can bring these things, all of which can tire you out.

Poor nutrition: Side effects of Crohn’s include loss of appetite and nausea. The simple fact that you may not be taking in enough calories to fuel your body can make you fatigued.

Inactivity: If you're tired, it can keep you on the couch or in bed. That lack of exercise can -- just like exercising too much -- tucker you out.

Anemia: If you have Crohn’s, you can have intestinal bleeding. The disease can also make it tougher for you to take in iron and other nutrients. That can lead to anemia, which means you have less blood to carry oxygen to the rest of your body. That brings fatigue.

Inflammation: Studies show that when your Crohn’s is at its most active, fatigue is a bigger problem.

Poor sleep: Flare-ups at night, pain, frequent trips to the bathroom -- all can keep you up at night. That lack of sleep could also make your Crohn’s worse.

Side effects of your medication: Some medicines you take to treat Crohn’s, like corticosteroids, can cause fatigue, either directly or by messing with your sleep. Some immunomodulators -- medications that ease inflammation by turning down your immune system, can cause fatigue, too.

Fighting Back

If you’ve been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and you’re constantly feeling tired, you can get help.

Work with your doctor. If you can’t shake that run-down feeling or it keeps coming back, a good health care plan is the first step. Maybe you’ll need to change medications. Maybe a new diet is in order. Whatever the case, you and your doctor need to talk it over and maybe include others on your health care team.

Whoever comes aboard, it’s your responsibility to work closely with everyone, be honest about how you feel and what you need, and take charge.

Eat well. Your diet is key to staving off fatigue. Remember, many with Crohn’s find that eating smaller meals (go easy on lunch) more frequently helps you get what you need nutritionally. It’s also best to avoid greasy foods, insoluble fiber, and anything that may trigger a flare-up for you.

Get your sleep. Go easy on the caffeine before bedtime. Try to go to sleep at the same time every night. Stay away from long, daytime naps. Watch what you eat (especially before bedtime). Set up a place to hit the hay that helps you get a good night’s sleep, without a TV or phone. Get a little exercise during the day, too.

Exercise. Not only will it help you sleep, it can help you -- as counterintuitive as it may sound -- beat that fatigue. Research is ongoing on this, but some suggest that regular exercise releases a protein that has anti-inflammatory effects, further helping you live with Crohn’s. Before starting any new exercise, though, check with your doctor.

Show Sources


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National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Definition & Facts for Crohn’s Disease.”

Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America: “You & Your Doctor,” “Living with Crohn’s Disease,” “Anemia Fact Sheet,” “Fact Sheet: Immunomodulators,” “Diet, Nutrition, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.”

Lamb, C. Gut, published online March 13, 2011.

Mayo Clinic: “Crohn’s disease symptom: Is fatigue common?” “Fatigue: Causes.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Eating to boost energy.”

Kreijne, J. Journal of Crohn’s and Colitis, published online Jan. 1, 2016.

John Hopkins Medicine: “Sleep Deprivation Effects.”

Brigham and Women’s Hospital: “Sleep & IBD.”

National Sleep Foundation: “Sleep Hygiene.”

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