How can fatigue affect your life?

It can increase the need for sleep and make it hard to concentrate or do anything. Constantly feeling exhausted and not being able to maintain an active lifestyle can affect your mood too: Many people who have rheumatoid arthritis also feel depressed, irritable or anxious. These feelings can be hard for others to fully understand.

The severity of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms may vary a lot from day to day. This can make it difficult to plan ahead. You don't know how you will feel the next day. This means that people with rheumatoid arthritis feel like they have lost control of their lives. If they are too exhausted, they may not have enough energy even for simple everyday activities or for playing with their children or grandchildren. Appointments may need to be rescheduled, and some people give up their favorite activities if they prove to be too demanding.

The effects of the disease can also change how you see yourself, as well as your role in your relationship, family or at work. Mutual give-and-take is often an important part of friendships and family relations. But rheumatoid arthritis can make it harder to continue to care for others – and may also mean that you need more and more help yourself. Fatigue can affect relationships because it becomes more difficult to carry out plans you make together. It can also affect your sex drive.

And at work it may be difficult to accept that you can't do as much as you used to. You might need more breaks, or certain tasks might need to be reassigned.

How do people cope with fatigue?

Many people gradually come to learn how to regulate their energy better and to accept the changes associated with the condition. They pay more attention to their body's signals and then adjust what kinds of activities they do based on their symptoms.

As well as the phases where the arthritis gets much worse, there are also periods where it's possible to live a quite normal life. It often helps to start seeing the condition as a part of your life and to set new goals that you can still achieve anyway. Some people say that the disease has helped them to live their lives more consciously.

Many report that they've discovered practical ways of dealing with :

  • Learn to say "no" sometimes.
  • Don't plan to do too much at once.
  • Reconsider and adapt your goals.
  • Plan activities carefully, take your time, spread out demanding tasks across the week.
  • Take breaks before you become too exhausted.
  • Get to bed early, take naps and learn relaxation techniques.
  • Avoid going out at busy times of the day, for instance when you go shopping or on a trip.
  • Talk with others about your disease so that they can better understand how it affects you.
  • Talk to others who have rheumatoid arthritis so that you can learn from their experiences.

Can physical activity help to lessen fatigue?

Some people who have try to get fitter by doing gentle physical exercise, with the aim of fighting the exhaustion that way. A number of different activities are well-suited for this, including:

  • Stretching exercises
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Brisk walking
  • Cycling
  • Water aerobics
  • Swimming

These activities may also be done in specialized exercise therapy.

Systematic reviews of the research on different types of exercise show that physical activity can help reduce . About 15 out of 100 people felt less exhausted after exercising. People who have rheumatoid arthritis can also reduce other symptoms and increase their quality of life a little with physical activity.

What kind of treatment could help against fatigue?

Sometimes is still a major problem despite adjusting your daily schedule, doing physical exercise and getting support from other people. Then professional help may be an option, for instance in the form of psychological treatment or occupational therapy. Some specialized programs have been developed specifically for people who have as a result of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. They're designed to do things like help you plan activities and make sure you don’t use up all of your energy at once.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) strategies can be learned to cope better with . Some involve recognizing and then changing certain thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that make it more difficult to live with the disease.

Studies show that approaches used in occupational therapy and psychotherapy can relieve exhaustion.

Björk M, Dragioti E, Alexandersson H et al. Inflammatory Arthritis and the Effect of Physical Activity on Quality of Life and Self-Reported Function: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken) 2022; 74(1): 31-43.

Cramp F, Hewlett S, Almeida C et al. Non-pharmacological interventions for fatigue in rheumatoid arthritis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2013; (8): CD008322.

Dures E, Kitchen K, Almeida C et al. "They didn't tell us, they made us work it out ourselves": patient perspectives of a cognitive-behavioral program for rheumatoid arthritis fatigue. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken) 2012; 64(4): 494-501.

Hewlett S, Cockshott Z, Byron M et al. Patients' perceptions of fatigue in rheumatoid arthritis: overwhelming, uncontrollable, ignored. Arthritis Rheum 2005; 53(5): 697-702.

Nikolaus S, Bode C, Taal E et al. New insights into the experience of fatigue among patients with rheumatoid arthritis: a qualitative study. Ann Rheum Dis 2010; 69(5): 895-897.

Repping-Wuts H, Uitterhoeve R, van Riel P et al. Fatigue as experienced by patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA): a qualitative study. Int J Nurs Stud 2008; 45(7): 995-1002.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

Comment on this page

What would you like to share with us?

We welcome any feedback and ideas - either via our form or by We will review, but not publish, your ratings and comments. Your information will of course be treated confidentially. Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required fields.

Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

Über diese Seite

Updated on January 11, 2024

Next planned update: 2027


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

How we keep you informed

Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter or newsfeed. You can find all of our films online on YouTube.