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Coping with fatigue brought on by arthritis

12:00am | & Health

The single biggest reason why people invest in one of our life-changing Acorn Stairlifts is to help cope with and manage the effects of arthritis.

In particular, the most common type, osteoarthritis, which is usually age-related and often called ‘wear and tear arthritis’. It can cause considerable pain and discomfort through sore and inflamed joints, especially when going up and down the stairs.

But there is another commonly experienced symptom affecting people with arthritis ­– fatigue. This differs significantly from the usual tiredness we all feel from time to time. Instead, fatigue is an overpowering sense of tiredness, a feeling of exhaustion and almost total lack of energy. It can be physical, emotional, psychological, or a combination of all three.

Because arthritis is a fluctuating condition, varying in severity at different times, fatigue is most likely to be experienced during a ‘flare up’, when a person’s arthritis is most active. This feeling of fatigue can last from a few days to a longer period, with common symptoms including:

  • A feeling of exhaustion, similar to flu
  • A feeling of heaviness in the body and limbs
  • A significant lack of energy, often described as being ‘wiped out’
  • An inability to concentrate or focus, sometimes described as ‘brain fog’
  • Feeling listless and lacking in motivation
  • Feeling depressed, anxious or with a persistent low mood.

There are many things that can cause fatigue, but most commonly it is linked to the inflammation and chronic pain experienced during an arthritis flare up. The body reacts to a flare up by producing small proteins called ‘cytokines’, which can induce an immune response leading to fatigue. Chronic pain, either for a short period or longer-term, also leads to fatigue.

Other causes can include anaemia (a shortage of iron in the body), underlying conditions such as diabetes or thyroid disease, and weakened muscles, which mean you need more energy to get around and do things. Some drugs used to treat arthritis can also cause fatigue or drowsiness as a side-effect. In very simplistic term, most arthritis sufferers experience fatigue during a flare up because it takes a lot of energy just to fight the effects of the flare up, leaving little remaining for anything else.

However, there are several ways to manage fatigue and help in this area should be supplied by your GP or specialist rheumatology team. As with many conditions, the first step is to acknowledge that you are feeling fatigued and recognise that it’s not a sign of weakness or failing to cope, but just another symptom of your arthritis. As well as seeking professional help, there are things you can do yourself to combat fatigue, including:

  • Knowing your limits, setting manageable goals and not overdoing it
  • Reducing the stress on arthritic joints by finding new ways to do things and making use of helpful mobility aids
  • Actively monitoring your energy levels – imagine having a fuel level indicator like a car, then be aware when you’re ‘running low’ and avoid anything that could make you ‘run out’.
  • Similarly, try to anticipate and manage your stress levels and find ways reduce stress
  • Choose your battles – save your energy for the things you really want or need to do and avoid those which you don’t. Find ways around the activities which exhaust you.

Diet and exercise can also play their part. There’s solid evidence that a healthy diet helps alleviate the symptoms of arthritis, including fatigue, and while exercise might be the last thing you want to do during a flare up, it can really help. However, it’s important to exercise in the right way for you and again your GP or arthritis specialist can help. Regular exercise actually increases energy levels.

One particularly daunting and exhausting activity for many arthritis sufferers is going up and down the stairs, but this is one battle which can be easily won. An Acorn Stairlift eliminates the obstacle of the stairs in your home, effectively turning it into a bungalow. Using the stairlift can make a real difference in avoiding fatigue and saving your energy for more important things. To find out more, call Acorn on 0800 016 9760 to speak to one of our stairlift advisors.

● For more information about every aspect of living with arthritis, visit the information-packed Arthritis Care website by clicking here.

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