Fatigue is the most common symptom of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). If you are struggling with lupus fatigue, there are things you can do to boost your energy levels, such as making dietary changes and exercising regularly.
Learn more about lupus fatigue and how to manage symptoms.
What is lupus fatigue?
Systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disease that causes persistent issues involving multiple systems and a pro-inflammatory state in the body.
According to one study, 40% of people with SLE suffer from persistent, severe fatigue. People with lupus have described lupus fatigue as feeling completely exhausted even after having a good night’s sleep or even with minimal exertion, such as making breakfast or showering. Lupus fatigue can be overwhelming and make it hard to do everyday activities.
What causes lupus fatigue?
The most common causes of lupus fatigue include:
- Flare-ups caused caused by the release of inflammatory chemicals in the body
- Thyroid imbalance
- Side effects of medications
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Depression and anxiety
- Stress or overexertion
- Lack of sleep caused by pain and other symptoms
- Low vitamin D levels
- Fibromyalgia, which is a separate disease that some patients with lupus experience
Speak with your doctor about lupus fatigue in lupus. Your doctor can evaluate the possible cause and provide appropriate treatment to reduce symptoms.
6 ways to manage lupus fatigue
1. Reduce inflammation through diet
Lupus symptoms can be reduced by increasing your intake of foods that fight inflammation:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Studies have shown that the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids are extremely effective in the treatment of lupus. Omega-3 fatty acids are abundant in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and tuna. Omega-3 fats can also be found in walnuts, flaxseeds, soy products, and green leafy vegetables. If you don't eat these foods frequently, talk to your doctor about whether omega-3 supplements are suitable for you.
- Ginger: Researchers found ginger to be beneficial for joint pain and inflammation. Lupus patients can alleviate joint discomfort by taking 2-4 grams of raw ginger juice, extract, or tea per day. Applying topical ginger oil to a sore joint may help as well..
- Turmeric: Turmeric has been used in traditional medicine to treat inflammation, digestive disorders, infections, and even cancer. Curcumin is the yellowish pigment found in turmeric that has anti-inflammatory effects comparable to those of medications such as hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone. You can consume 1 teaspoon of turmeric a day by incorporating it in dishes, stews, soups, salads, and other dishes.
- Antioxidants: Antioxidants can prevent inflammation by reducing inflammatory signal activation. Although antioxidant pills are available, it is preferable to obtain them through a balanced diet. The best sources of antioxidants are fruits and vegetables, so aim to have at least 5 servings per day.
- Hydration: Dehydration is an often underdiagnosed cause of exhaustion. Make sure you drink enough water (3-4 liters) daily. You can mix it up with coconut water, melons, grapes, and freshly squeezed juices.
2. Take steps to treat osteoporosis
Since lupus fatigue can be caused by bone weakness, regular intake of calcium and along with foods rich in calcium can improve bone health and reduce symptoms. Vitamin D increases calcium absorption, so vitamin D supplements may help as well.
3. Maintain a healthy weight
Steroid medications, such as prednisone, that are administered to reduce lupus flare-ups may cause weight gain, increase triglycerides, and raise blood sugar. Weight gain can contribute to fatigue as well as increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and other issues. Increased intake of vegetables, lean protein, and low-fat can help reduce the stress on vital organs caused by these problems.
Some people with lupus may experience loss of appetite, which leads to weight loss that can weaken and reduce the functionality of major organs. It is important to consume an adequate amount of healthy food to help the body function optimally.
4. Get enough exercise
Regular exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight and can improve your mood, which can help you get energy when you have lupus. Other benefits of exercise include the following:
- Increases joint mobility
- Reduces pain due to the release of endorphins
- Improves circulation in muscles, bones, and organs
- Improves lung capacity
- Strengthen muscles
5. Adequate sleep
Sleep and fatigue are inextricably tied to each other. Adequate sleep reduces stress and helps your body repair and rejuvenate. Practice good sleep hygiene by avoiding light-emitting gadgets, such as phones, iPads, and laptops, before bedtime.
If you are not getting good sleep, talk to your doctor. Certain medications can make it difficult to sleep.
6. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT has been demonstrated to be useful in the treatment of fatigue and related symptoms such as depression and anxiety. This type of therapy aims to help you understand the impact of negative responses to stressful events and learn how to cope and manage them better.
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Yuen HK, Cunningham MA. Optimal management of fatigue in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus: a systematic review. Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2014;10:775-786. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4199565/
Berman JR. Lupus and Fatigue. Hospital for Special Surgery. https://www.hss.edu/conditions_lupus-and-fatigue.asp
Greenlaw E. Fighting Lupus Fatigue and Boosting Energy. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/lupus/features/boost-energy-lupus
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