Fatigue, The Mother of All Calls From Inside The House
Last updated: February 2022
Anybody reading this already knows that arthritis is serious. It hurts. It burns. It stops people in their tracks with brain fog, stiffness, reduced range of motion, and fatigue. In my opinion, fatigue’s deactivating powers make it the worst symptom of all.
Mild fatigue slows everything down. Moderate fatigue makes it hard to participate in life. And severe fatigue is a sticky pit of quicksand, grabbing onto everything it touches. Don’t get me wrong, the other symptoms deserve respect for their ability to ruin everything, but fatigue can make life entirely stop.
If I ask you to pick up a certain soda in a red can with curly white letters, you immediately understand what I’m talking about. You probably know how it tastes and smells. Maybe you prefer the one in the blue can or green can better?
It’s the same with tennis shoes. The ones with jungle cats or three stripes evoke similar feelings of recognition, followed by affinity, antipathy, or indifference to these items and the people who wear them. That’s what fatigue is missing.
Fatigue is vague
It’s a nonspecific symptom of stress, anxiety, depression, painsomnia, treatments, and thousands of other illnesses and disorders. It sounds too much like tiredness or exhaustion.
Fatigue doesn’t correspond to other symptoms
Health advocates and organizations have sensitized the public to common health issues. It’s widely understood that breast lumps should be investigated to manage the risk of breast cancer. We know to mention chest pains to our providers. Millions of people present mysterious skin lumps, bumps, and marks to Dermos for biopsy and removal to stop skin cancer in time. We don’t have anything like that for arthritis fatigue.
And then there’s our culture
We live in a culture that celebrates and enables being busy, overworked, and sleep deprived. Instead of changing to facilitate being well rested we soldier on with coffee, energy drinks, and sheer force of will.
Fatigue can keep you from working
Fatigue is a major threat to full employment. According to a recent article by molecular biologist Ana Pena, most inflammatory rheumatic disease patients are affected by fatigue, and up to 70 percent become disabled within 10 years.1 She confirmed that this process included reduced performance and impaired activity.1
This is disturbing, and something patients and their support systems must take seriously. Fatigue has dramatically changed how I work, but nobody told me this was coming.
What’s to be done?
- Be honest with your care team about fatigue.
- Keep track of your activity levels. If anything you’re used to doing is harder or impossible, speak up.
- Tell your team how often it happens and what makes it better or worse.
- Keep up with screenings for common causes of fatigue like anemia, thyroid dysfunction, vitamin deficiencies, and allergies.
- Try to stay open to a new diagnosis. It’s normal to bristle at the idea that something else could be wrong, but ignoring it won’t help.
Do you notice worsening flares in colder weather?