Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease that involves inflammation of the joints, typically the small joints in the hands and feet.

These joints become swollen and painful, and may eventually become twisted or deformed. As RA progresses, it affects other joints and tissues, as well as major organs like the heart, eyes, lungs, and kidneys.

One of the most common side effects of RA is chronic fatigue or feeling tired all the time. As many as 80% of people with RA report chronic fatigue, which can severely impact their quality of life.

RA-related fatigue can be caused by multiple conditions, including:

  • chronic inflammation
  • high blood pressure
  • depression
  • fibromyalgia
  • lack of sleep due to pain
  • obesity
  • medication side effects

Just like there are many possible causes of fatigue, there are many ways to manage it. Talk with your doctor about the possible cause of your fatigue, such as depression, lack of sleep, or high blood pressure.

There are additional ways to combat fatigue besides therapy sessions or medication.

Exercise may be the furthest thing from your mind when you feel fatigued, but it can be one of the best ways to fight drowsiness. Gentle, low impact exercises can strengthen muscles, build endurance, and strengthen your heart.

You may even find yourself losing extra weight and lowering your blood pressure. Good exercises to try are yoga, swimming, bicycling, and gentle stretching.

Make your life easier by streamlining tasks at home and work. For example:

  • When cooking, make sure you gather all ingredients and utensils beforehand.
  • Ask a friend to help you rearrange your spaces so that the things you use daily are easily accessible.
  • At work, request a parking space close to your office space, and a workspace close to the restroom or break room, if possible.
  • Make a list of the different ways you can work smarter, not harder. Ask for help if you need it.

On average, adults need about 8 hours of sleep per night. If you can do it, a short daytime nap of 20 to 30 minutes may help you feel more alert, energetic, and recharged.

Try to avoid long naps during the day, as they can interfere with your regular sleep schedule.

Maintain a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, avoid electronics before bedtime, and keep your sleeping space dark.

There are many benefits to staying hydrated, including helping with joint pain and increasing energy. Drinking water can also help with fatigue related to dehydration.

Large meals with high amounts of fats and/or carbohydrates can make you feel tired and sluggish. A protein-packed breakfast followed by a light lunch — with healthy snacks eaten throughout the day to prevent hunger — might help this.

Staying hydrated, avoiding inflammatory foods such as processed meat, and limiting sugar intake can also help.

Chronic fatigue can make it difficult to perform daily tasks or to find the motivation to perform necessary activities. Assistive devices, aids, and easy-open packaging might help if you have difficulty completing everyday tasks.

Some of these items include:

  • zipper pulls
  • jar openers
  • mobility aids
  • shower chair
  • electric devices, like toothbrushes and can openers
  • easy-open medication bottles, or pill organizers
  • lever door handles
  • keyless starters for cars

If something else is impacting your fatigue, your doctor might be able to help you find the best next steps.

Explain what you have tried to manage your RA-related fatigue, and how it impacts your day-to-day life. Things such as anxiety, depression, overexertion, side effects of medications, and routines can add to your fatigue symptoms.

Additionally, other conditions may add to your fatigue, and your doctor can guide you through getting a diagnosis.

Can rheumatoid arthritis cause extreme fatigue?

Yes, RA leads to inflammation of the joints, which can cause exhaustion and drowsiness.

The inflammation inside the body can cause people with RA to feel drained of energy and chronically drowsy.

What does RA fatigue feel like?

RA fatigue can vary depending on the case, but it can be described as a constant feeling of exhaustion. This can cause people to need more sleep than typically suggested, have difficulty concentrating or performing simple tasks, and feel a loss of interest.

These symptoms may vary day by day.

Do RA meds help with fatigue?

RA medications reduce symptoms, which can improve sleep quality. Certain medications may cause side effects, such as fatigue, so being on the right RA medication can help to manage that symptom.

Does a rheumatologist treat chronic fatigue syndrome?

While there’s no specific cure or treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatologists can be seen for chronic fatigue syndrome.

If the underlying cause of your chronic fatigue syndrome is RA, a rheumatologist can help you manage symptoms.

Chronic fatigue is very common in people with RA. If you’re dealing with chronic fatigue, talk with your care team to see if there’s a treatment strategy or lifestyle change that may work for you.

Exercise, organization, sleeping through the night, eating a well-balanced diet, and investing in helpful devices may help you manage your fatigue symptoms related to RA.