It’s very common for people with ulcerative colitis (UC) to experience fatigue. There are many reasons for this connection, but there are ways to cope.

Fatigue is more than just feeling tired. It’s a level of ongoing exhaustion that makes it difficult to get through your day. It can affect your work or school life and your relationships. It can make daily tasks much more challenging.

Many people with UC can also experience brain fog. If you have brain fog, you may often have trouble with memory and focus. It may feel like your brain is “cloudy” and isn’t quite functioning at a usual level.

Fatigue can stem from a variety of reasons when you live with UC. Levels of fatigue tend to be higher during a flare of UC. But in remission, many people still feel fatigued.

Symptoms of UC, including diarrhea, pain, and rectal bleeding can cause fatigue. People with UC often have nutrient deficiencies which make fatigue worse.

The emotional toll of having a chronic disease can also cause fatigue.

Here are more details about how UC can cause fatigue and brain fog and ways to cope.

Yes. There are several reasons why people with UC are more likely to experience fatigue and brain fog.

Research suggests that up to 80% of people in a flare experience fatigue. Even in periods of remission, around 50% of people with IBD report fatigue.

Here are some of the reasons why people with UC experience fatigue:

  • Lack of nutrient absorption: During a flare, it’s hard for your body to absorb the energy and nutrients that you need. If you can’t eat enough or have low levels of folate, iron, and B12, you can feel fatigued.
  • Mental health changes: One study found that about 10.8% of participants with IBD also lived with depression. Depression is associated with higher levels of fatigue.
  • Anemia: Up to 90% of people with IBD have low levels of red blood cells due to iron deficiency. This can be from blood loss, changes in iron absorption, and inflammation during a flare.
  • Inflammation: The inflammatory response during a flare is associated with greater fatigue. More research is needed to understand this connection.
  • Side effects of medications: Certain medications used for UC can cause fatigue. These include methotrexate, 6-mercaptopurine, azathioprine, vedolizumab, infliximab, and steroids.
  • Disrupted sleep: Many people experience poor sleep due to symptoms, side effects of medications, or stress.

Fatigue may feel a little different to everyone.

Generally, fatigue is a feeling of exhaustion that interferes with your ability to get through the day. It doesn’t get better with a quiet day or an afternoon nap. You will still feel fatigued even after a full night’s sleep.

Fatigue can make it hard to function. This level of fatigue can impact your social life, ability to work, and emotional well-being.

Fatigue and brain fog can be hard to cope with. Here are some things you can try to better manage the effects of fatigue and brain fog.

  • Prioritize your energy: When you’re dealing with minimal energy, make sure to save it for the things that really matter to you. Modify or skip the other things if you can.
  • Plan your day: There may be times of the day when you naturally have a bit more energy. Plan to do what you really need or want to do during that time.
  • Do gentle exercise: Movement can help with energy levels and brain fog. A walk outside, some stretching, or just moving around your home may give you a boost.
  • Stay connected with others: It is tough to be social when you’re feeling so tired, but contact with others can help. Research shows that having good social connections can improve fatigue.
  • Try mindfulness: Mindfulness can be an effective way to manage stress, anxiety, and depression. Some research suggests it may improve fatigue in some people.
  • Make lists: Having trouble remembering things can add more stress and worsen fatigue. Write everything down so you don’t have to rely on your memory.
  • Ask for help: It’s OK to let others help. Ask for help with things like errands, meal prep, or child care.
  • Eat on a regular schedule: Do your best to eat something every few hours. Set a timer if you’re having trouble remembering to eat or if your appetite is low.
  • Stay hydrated: Low fluid intake can worsen fatigue. Do your best to drink fluids throughout the day.
  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule: Although sleep won’t fix this level of fatigue, it still matters. Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day.

Regular, ongoing follow-up with your healthcare team is important. If your fatigue is interfering with daily tasks, make sure to mention this.

Talk with your doctor about your symptoms and pain level. There may be medication changes that can help manage your symptoms and reduce fatigue.

If you’re having trouble eating enough or are restricting several foods, let your doctor know. A registered dietitian may be able to help you improve your nutrient intake.

If it’s been a while since you’ve had blood work done, it may be smart to get your levels checked. Low iron, B12, and folate levels and anemia can all worsen fatigue.

When you have ulcerative colitis, there are many reasons why you may feel fatigued. Ongoing symptoms, nutrient deficiencies, and changes in mental health all contribute to fatigue.

There are things you can do to manage.

Making changes to your routine and taking care of your emotional and physical health can help. It’s also important to keep in touch with your healthcare team.

Adjustments to medications may help better manage your symptoms and improve fatigue. Make sure you have regular blood work done to monitor your nutrient levels.

Living with UC can be tough, but you’re not alone. You can always reach out to others for help and support.