For many people with lupus, extreme fatigue is one of the primary symptoms of the disease.
Learning strategies for minimizing the onset of fatigue and ways to handle the symptom are crucial.
What contributes to fatigue with lupus?
Upwards of 80% of people with lupus experience fatigue with many people being unable to continue working due to the disease. However, the cause of the fatigue varies from person to person. Research has identified many factors associated with fatigue including:
- poor sleep quality
- depression and/or anxiety
- anemia (low red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood)
- vitamin D deficiency
Feelings of fatigue are not necessarily constant; it may come and go similar to a lupus flare. Complicating matters, diseases that co-exist with lupus such as diabetes, fibromyalgia, and thyroid disease are also associated with fatigue. This can make identifying the root cause of the fatigue difficult. And, many medications used to treat lupus also may increase feelings of fatigue.
“The fatigue… I feel like I weigh 600 pounds.”
Fending off fatigue with exercise
The most important thing you can do to avoid feeling fatigued (and it may seem counterintuitive) is maintain a regular exercise schedule. One pilot study even evaluated the use of Wii Fit (yes, the video game system), having participants use the system 3 times per week, for 30 minutes each time, for 10 weeks. At the end of the 10 weeks, participants:
- perceived their fatigue to be significantly decreased (using the Fatigue Severity Scale)
- had a lower anxiety level (as measured by the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale)
- reported a decrease in overall intensity of total pain experience (measured by Short-form of the McGill Pain Questionnaire)
- reduced their waist circumference
- reduced their body fat
While additional research is needed, exercise is a necessity to help combat fatigue.
Other lifestyle changes that may help with fatigue
As is common with many chronic conditions, maintaining a healthy lifestyle will help decrease the severity of many symptoms. Eating healthy foods – particularly lean meats, fruits, and vegetables – can influence your energy levels. It can be useful to track the foods that you eat to get a better understanding of the source of the calories that you eat.
What should I avoid to combat lupus fatigue?
- Tobacco and drug use
- Limit alcohol intake
- Fast food
- Foods that are high in sugar
- Direct sun exposure — this is a common fatigue trigger