Strategies for managing fatigue
As many as 80 percent of people with lupus experience fatigue. For some people with lupus, fatigue is their main symptom.1 Fatigue 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. Several factors appear to be related to the experience of fatigue. These include disease activity and pain level, medications taken, age, poor mental and/or physical health, and the absence of sufficient social support.
Poor coping strategies, feelings of helplessness, depression or anxiety, smoking, and lack of exercise can also be related to lupus fatigue. Before a physician can conclude that fatigue is related to these factors, he or she will rule out any treatable causes of fatigue such as anemia, kidney failure, or hypothyroidism.
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.
By making some adjustments, people with lupus-related fatigue can often learn how to avoid pushing themselves to exhaustion. Getting regular exercise and joining a support group can help.
Ways to manage lupus fatigue
Be open about your fatigue and how it affects you
- At doctor appointments, explain how fatigue affects you. Ask for lupus fatigue resources, and ask your doctor to support your efforts.
- Bring someone close to you to your next appointment.
Listen to your body and understand your limits
- Aerobic exercise is an effective non-drug treatment for lupus fatigue. High-impact exercise isn’t a must—what’s important is doing some kind of movement and/or strength-building activity every day. Look for exercise classes designed for your fitness level.
- Alternate daily activities with short periods of rest. But be aware that sleeping during the day could interfere with your nightly sleep pattern.
- Plan your energy use so that today’s essential tasks are done, while the rest wait until tomorrow.
Plan ahead and prioritize your activities
- When you have to drive, group your errands so that you can rest afterward.
- Shop online and have items shipped directly to you.
- Prepare meals in advance; arrange for help with chores.
- Be choosy about which activities and events you can attend and which you must regretfully decline. Remember, your health comes first.
Accept fatigue as a condition of having lupus
- Refuse to indulge in self-blame. It is not your fault that you have lupus.
- Make rest time a priority, and make sure your family knows why. If you rest now, you can participate later.
- Challenge yourself to ask for what you need. Asking for help will become easier with time and practice.
- Accept help that’s offered—it will result in stronger bonds between you and those who care about you.
Make adjustments in your life that will help you live better
- Join a support group to learn more fatigue-fighting tips.
- Establish good sleep patterns and a healthy diet.
- Smoking reduces your available energy by restricting blood flow to your heart and lungs. If you smoke, make a commitment to stop.
1 Ahn, G. E., & Ramsey-Goldman, R. (2012). Fatigue in systemic lupus erythematosus. International journal of clinical rheumatology, 7(2), 217–227. https://doi.org/10.2217/IJR.12.4