Sick and Tired: Handling Fatigue from Ulcerative Colitis

by Mandy Patterson Patient Expert

For those of us with ulcerative colitis (UC), fatigue can be physical, mental, or a combination of the two. Fatigue is defined as an overwhelming sense of continuing tiredness, lack of energy, or feeling of exhaustion that is not relieved after rest or sleep, according to Crohn’s and Colitis UK. And while fatigue can worsen as your UC worsens and get better as your UC improves, it can be difficult to deal with the effects. Read on to learn more about this common UC symptom and get tips to manage it.

woman awake in bed

What Causes Fatigue?

Crohn’s and Colitis UK attributes fatigue with UC to inflammation, pain, nutritional deficiencies, emotional stress, medication, disturbed sleep, and other causes. If you are experiencing fatigue, it’s important to let your gastroenterologist (GI) know so they can order the necessary blood tests to check your inflammation markers and nutritional deficiencies.

Head in fog concept.

How Can Fatigue Affect You?

If you experience fatigue with your UC, you might notice that you have a hard time performing physical activity, your memory and concentration might be impacted, and you might be more emotional than normal. If you feel like your brain is foggy, you're experiencing fatigue. But not all hope is lost — use the following tips and tricks to help combat your fatigue.

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Take Breaks Often

If you're experiencing fatigue, taking breaks can help. Whether you're working or just doing another activity, taking five to 10 minutes away from whatever you're doing can help you to refocus and center yourself. Take a step away from your activity, close your eyes, and focus on breathing in and out. While doing this may not refresh you back to 100 percent, it can make a difference in your focus and emotional state.

Mature Woman Meditating in Forest

Find Ways to Reduce Your Stress

Stress plays a big role in fatigue. If you're stressed about work, school, family, or other parts of your life and you're fatigued, you might find your stress level steadily increasing. Stress negatively impacts fatigue and can make you feel more tired. In this case, look to something that can help break your stress cycle. Whether that's saying no to an activity, preplanning work or a project, or maybe taking time to meditate, findwhat works for you to help alleviate any stressors.

Talk to Your Loved Ones

Letting your loved ones know that you're experiencing fatigue can help in more ways than one. If you live with your partner, let them know what you're experiencing and tell them that you might need more help around the house or more moral support from them during this time. They might be able to find ways to help you relax and get some much-needed rest.

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Plan a Relaxing Activity

Whether with your partner, friend, or family, planning a relaxing activity like a couple's massage, manicure/pedicure, or other spa-like treatment can work wonders on your fatigue. Or, if you prefer, plan an activity like watching a movie with a close friend. Taking time to do something relaxing and slow-paced still provides you with time to be with your friend or loved one but doesn't become too taxing for you. And your friend could probably use a relaxing activity, too!

Change Up Your Diet

Sometimes, changing your diet can help reduce your fatigue, according to Harvard Health. Make sure you're getting in enough complex carbohydrates — your body needs these for energy! If you're feeling sluggish and tired, carbohydrates can provide you with more energy to get through your day. You might also need to start taking supplements like B-12 or vitamin D. But remember: Don't start any supplements without speaking to your doctor first.

counselor talks to patient.

Talk to a Counselor

Fatigue isn't something you have to deal with by yourself. Employing a form of cognitive behavioral therapy or discussing your fatigue with a counselor or psychiatrist can help alleviate some of the emotional symptoms of fatigue, according to Cochrane. Look into your healthcare network or see if your GI can recommend a therapist. Talking through your fatigue and figuring out coping mechanisms can help you combat your fatigue on the emotional level.

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You Don't Have to Put Up With Fatigue

It's important to know that you don't have to put up with fatigue. If you're feeling completely drained or like your brain is in a fog, talk to your GI. Work with them to establish a plan to help eliminate your fatigue. It's important to find what works for you and your body; some people might find exercising helps, while others find success with therapy. Fatigue is a part of UC and can impact everyone differently, so make sure you take the right measures for you to feel better.

Mandy Patterson
Meet Our Writer
Mandy Patterson

Mandy is a patient expert and advocate for ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel disease. She started down the road to advocacy after receiving an ulcerative colitis diagnosis in 2013, after experiencing complications of UC since 2010. She’s a full-time technical writer and technical writing instructor for Missouri State University, where she earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in professional writing. For her master’s thesis she wrote about the quality patient education materials for those diagnosed with UC, and the need for technical writers in the IBD medical field. Mandy is a Social Ambassador for the IBD HealthCentral Facebook page.