Tips for Beating Ankylosing Spondylitis Fatigue
Tips for Beating Ankylosing Spondylitis Fatigue
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is known for complications related to inflammation of the spine. While the pain and discomfort may disrupt your daily activities, you may be contending with another debilitating side effect: fatigue. The Spondylitis Association of America designates fatigue as one of the most common complaints among AS patients. Excessive tiredness can be attributed to AS itself, but it can also be a side effect. Fighting fatigue requires that you get to the bottom of the exact source.
Inflammation and Fatigue
The biggest culprit behind AS-related fatigue is inflammation. Inflamed tissues within the spine contain small, protein-based chemicals called cytokines. According to the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society, cytokines react in the body similarly to those produced when you have a cold or flu. This is why you may feel like you have a viral illness when you really don’t. Treating inflammation with medications can help reduce related excessive fatigue. Bear in mind that some prescription drugs containing opioids or codeine may increase tiredness.
Aim for Sound Sleep
In some cases, fatigue isn’t exclusively related to rheumatoid inflammation. Pain and discomfort can make it difficult to fall asleep at night, adding fuel to exhaustion. On top of that, you may wake up constantly in the middle of the night from pain and not always realize it. While stiffness and pain may persist some nights, there are a few ways you can ensure a more restful night’s sleep. Try the following measures:
- Go to bed at the same time every night, including weekend nights.
- Don’t sleep in on weekends.
- Avoid naps—take several breaks instead.
- Do relaxing pre-bed activities, such as deep breathing exercises.
- Add thicker curtains in your bedroom so the sunlight is less likely to awaken you.
- Regulate your room’s temperature.
Check for Anemia
Inflammation from AS increases your risk for anemia, a condition marked by a lack of hemoglobin in red blood cells. These cells are responsible for transporting oxygen to organs. Fatigue is one of the first signs of anemia. Accompanying symptoms may include:
- frequent headaches
- shortness of breath
- pale skin
Anemia is diagnosed with a blood test. A prescribed iron supplement may help restore hemoglobin robbed from spinal inflammation and restore your energy levels.
Get on the Scale
A lack of energy can lead to decreased activity, and subsequent weight gain. Being overweight presents many long-term health concerns, and it can worsen AS symptoms as well. Extra fat adds more stress to your spine, worsening inflammation. Being overweight can also make everyday tasks more difficult to complete, zapping away your limited energy reserves. In addition to lifestyle factors—poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, etc.—certain medications, such as prednisone, may lead to weight gain. Ask your doctor about the potential for these types of side effects from your prescriptions. If you’re struggling with your weight, your physician can help you formulate a plan to lose weight and gain some energy back too.
Weight gain often calls for changes to your diet. When it comes to battling fatigue from AS, dietary changes mean much more than cutting calories. Your focus should instead be on eating nutrient-dense foods that will boost energy levels all day. Whole grains and carbs derived from produce provide lasting energy, compared with “crashes” associated with sugar and refined flours. Also, swap water for caffeinated beverages. That extra latte may give you a boost now, but the caffeine and added creams and sugars will ultimately make you feel run down.
When you’re on your last thread, working out is likely the furthest thing from your mind. There’s no denying the fact that regular workouts will improve energy levels over time. Plus, with regular exercise, you may find it easier to fall asleep at night. Exercise is also important for keeping your bones strong against osteoporosis, a disease that AS patients are at an increased risk of developing later in life. Start with short walks and work your way up to longer, higher intensity exercises when you have the energy. Refrain from exercising later in the day or in the evening because it can potentially disrupt sleep.
There is no cure for ankylosing spondylitis, so fighting related symptoms requires diligence to keep up with treatment. If you frequently do not have enough energy to make it through the day, it may be time to reanalyze your current treatment plan with your doctor. A different approach to treating AS may be enough to keep fatigue at bay. Above all else, remain calm: stress only adds to feelings of tiredness, so cut yourself some slack as you aim for more rest.
- Complications of Spondylitis. (2012). Spondylitis Association of America. Retrieved September 4, 2013, from http://www.spondylitis.org/about/complications.aspx
- Diet and Nutrition. (2012). Spondylitis Association of America. Retrieved September 4, 2013, from http://www.spondylitis.org/about/diet.aspx
- Fatigue. (2011, May 23). National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society. Retrieved September 4, 2013, from http://www.nass.co.uk/about-as/living-with-as/fatigue/