Living well with lupus

What causes the overwhelming fatigue in lupus?

As many as 80 percent of people with lupus experience fatigue. For some people with lupus, fatigue is their main symptom and can be debilitating, even to the point of forcing them to stop working. It is unclear why extreme fatigue occurs in so many people with lupus, but disease activity, pain, age, and medicines being taken, as well as poor physical and mental health and lack of good social support, all appear to play a role.

In addition, poor coping strategies, feelings of helplessness, depression or anxiety, smoking, and lack of exercise have all been found to be related to lupus fatigue. Before the physician can conclude that fatigue is related to these factors, any “treatable” causes of fatigue (for example, anemia, kidney failure, or hypothyroidism) need to be ruled out.

Physicians experienced with lupus recognize the harmful and even destructive effects that extreme fatigue can have, and research is underway to learn more about how to treat the problem. Getting regular exercise and being part of a support group have been found to help. By making some adjustments, people with lupus-related fatigue will be less likely to push themselves to exhaustion.

Medically reviewed on July 20, 2013