15 Ways to Ease Rheumatoid Arthritis Fatigue


People with rheumatoid arthritis tend not to mention their tiredness to their doctor. Don’t make this mistake. Your doctor can’t help if he or she is unaware of the problem. These tips may also help.


1. Move more

Exercise increases muscle mass, strength, flexibility, and circulation, which makes movement easier and less painful. It also stimulates brain chemicals that produce energy and a feeling of well-being. Good choices are low-impact activities such as walking, swimming, cycling, and yoga.

2. Check your medications

Drugs for high blood pressure and antidepressants can cause tiredness. If you think a drug may be contributing to your fatigue, ask your doctor about a lower dosage or an alternative.

3. Get treatment for depression

Depression is common in people with rheumatoid arthritis. If you think you might be depressed, let your doctor know how you’re feeling.

4. Get tested for anemia

Anemia affects up to 70 percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis. If you have anemia, your blood does not carry enough oxygen to the rest of your body, which causes you to feel tired.

5. Get tested for underactive thyroid

People with rheumatoid arthritis are at increased risk for developing hypothyroidism. Fatigue and joint and muscle pain can be symptoms.

6. Relieve pain promptly

Continued pain causes fatigue. Use pain medications, joint rest, and applications of heat or cold when needed.

7. Get ample sleep

Most people need seven to nine hours a night. If pain is keeping you awake, your rheumatoid arthritis medication may need to be adjusted or changed to get better control of inflammation. A mild sleep aid also may help.

8. Improve your diet

Active rheumatoid arthritis may cause you to lose your appetite and not get enough energy-boosting nutrients. When possible, choose energy-promoting foods such as nuts, fruits, and protein (like eggs or low-fat yogurt).

9. Lose weight

Being overweight can lead to sleep problems, such as sleep apnea, and increase stress on joints as well as inflammation.

10. Support your joints

Taking stress off your joints when you need to by using a brace or cane can help reduce fatigue.

11. Chronicle your pain

Are there certain times when your fatigue worsens? Jot it down, then work with your doctor to establish a pattern that may help you better predict—and be prepared for— episodes of fatigue.

12. Pace yourself

Divide your tasks by thinking of your energy in terms of a budget that you must balance. Just as you wouldn’t spend all your money at the beginning of the month, don’t carry out all of your errands at one time.

13. Try to conserve energy

Instead of making several trips up and down stairs, consolidate activities and complete all the tasks on one floor before moving to the next.

14. Consider therapy

A 2011 study found that cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of psychotherapy used to change behavior patterns, may help relieve fatigue. People with RA who underwent twice-weekly sessions for six weeks reported significant improvements.

15. Talk to an occupational therapist

He or she can teach you how to conserve energy, relieve stress, practice relaxation techniques, and get better-quality sleep.

John A. Flynn, M.D., M.B.A.
Meet Our Writer
John A. Flynn, M.D., M.B.A.

John A. Flynn, M.D., M.B.A., M.Ed., F.A.C.P., F.A.C.R., is a professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He is the associate dean and executive director of the Clinical Practice Association and vice president of the Office of Johns Hopkins Physicians. He is the medical director of the spondyloarthritis program and a founding member of the Johns Hopkins Primary Care Consortium. Dr. Flynn received his doctor of medicine degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia and completed his internship and residency at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, followed by a fellowship in rheumatology. Dr. Flynn also completed his master of business administration degree at the Johns Hopkins University and his master of education degree at the University of Cincinnati. He is board-certified in internal medicine and rheumatology and is a fellow with the American College of Rheumatology and the American College of Physicians. Dr. Flynn is the editor of the Oxford American Handbook of Clinical Medicine and Mosby’s Guide to Physical Examination.