Lupus Fatigue and Its Impact on Patients
A diagnosis of lupus used to be one of the most feared test results any patient could receive. It often meant a life filled with misery and fatigue, and even death. Today, patients can learn to manage both the condition and the fatigue that accompanies it.
Among all of the autoimmune diseases known to man, Lupus remains one of the most enigmatic. It has often been called the “disease with a thousand faces” due to its unpredictable symptoms and tendency to mimic the effects of other ailments. Sadly, there is little public discussion about this condition, so many who suffer from its effects suffer without the support and understanding afforded to those who have cancer or similarly well-known diseases. For those patients who endure lupus, the symptoms of lupus – including fatigue – can be severely debilitating.
What Is Lupus
Lupus is another of those dread diseases where the immune system misfires and mistakenly attacks the tissues within its own body. It is a disease that can range in severity from mild to extreme, and that can attack a variety of different demographic groups. However, it is most prominent in people of color, striking them somewhere around three times more frequently than whites. It also seems to target women, as ninety percent of its victims are female. Lupus is predominantly a disease of youth and middle age, striking most often in that period between the mid-teens and the early forties.
Lupus has two varieties – one of a milder nature and one that is more debilitating:
The first, known as discoid lupus erythematosus, primarily impact skin that comes into contact with sunlight, producing disc-shaped lesions on the skin that often leave scar tissue when they heal. This variety of lupus does not normally impact organs other than the skin.
The second, systemic lupus erythematosus is the main concern. It not only impact skin, but internal organs as well. Patients with this form of the disease often have lesions across their nose and cheeks. Scar tissue can form there too. The main worry with this type of lupus is the way that it causes joints, tissue, and the skin to become damaged over time. Even worse, it can inflame and weaken the membranes that protect critical organs like the kidneys, heart, brain, and lungs. It can also affect the blood vessels, periodically cutting off blood to the extremities – especially during periods of cold temperature.
Known Causes for Lupus:
What researchers think they know at this point is that there are a variety of things that can contribute to lupus, with no one factor being the predominate cause for the condition. Genetic markers appear to have a role, as do certain hormone issues and the immune system’s response to outside stimuli. Virus, bacteria, and other environmental concerns can also impact the onset of the disease. Medications can have an impact, and so too can conditions such as pregnancy. Even the amount of stress you encounter can potentially increase your risk for contracting the condition.
How Does Lupus Cause Fatigue?
This is among the great mysteries of this enigmatic disease: even lupus experts are unsure about exactly why fatigue hits different lupus patients so hard. Even after patients have gone to great lengths to manage other aspects of their condition, overwhelming exhaustion remains a problem. There are a few things, however, that the researchers do agree on with respect to some of the most fundamental causes for lupus fatigue:
- Sleep quality. For a variety of reasons, patient with this disease often suffer from sleeplessness. Obviously, a lack of sleep can make you tired, and the added stress of insufficient rest can lead to exhaustion over time.
- Emotional stress. Lupus is often accompanied by anxiety and even depression. Anxiety causes you to remain in a heightened state of alertness for extended periods of time, which can tire your bodily systems. Depression gradually wears you down in other ways.
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Lupus patients often suffer from anemia, and this lack of iron can lead to fatigue. Deficiencies in vitamins such as vitamin D can also contribute to a lack of energy.
- Lupus patients often suffer from multiple conditions. For instance, a lupus patient might also be overweight, have thyroid issues, or be dealing with diabetes. Those conditions and others like them can also add to the problem.
- Lupus medications often leave patients feeling worn out or exhausted.
Can You Counter Lupus Fatigue?
First of all, it is important to remember that knowledge about and treatment for lupus has advanced significantly over the last few decades. As a result, the crisis management paradigm of years past has changed, and the death toll is no longer a fearsome thing. In previous generations, doctors spent most of their time dealing with the flares caused by the disease rather than working to manage the patient’s ongoing care. As that has changed, patients are experiencing far less severe symptoms once their disease is diagnosed and a treatment plan devised.
However, fatigue remains an issue even after that initial crisis phase of the disease has passed. Moreover, even in the management phase of the disease, flares still happen. Still, the normal symptoms can at least be mitigated during the chronic stage of the condition. Treatment for this condition varies from patient to patient, depending upon the extent to which various organs have been damaged. Treatment for the fatigue aspect, however, is more standardized.
Obviously, various medications will be used to help reduce inflammation, and stave off the worst effects on the organs of the body. Some of these medications can actually increase fatigue for a time, but those effects usually pass as your body grows more accustomed to the treatment.
Lifestyle changes are critical, since even the medications can increase fatigue. Here are some of the most important changes to focus on:
- Begin with diet. Remove as many processed foods, sugars, and caffeinated beverages from your dietary plan as you possibly can. Replace them with whole food choices like whole grains, protein, complex carbohydrates, and those healthy oils that can provide your system with the essential fatty acids it needs.
- Protect your skin from the sun with sunscreen whenever you venture outdoors.
- Use vaccinations to protect yourself against infections that can exacerbate your illness.
- If you smoke or drink, stop.
- Get the rest you need. There is a tendency to want to sleep more than you normally would, so try to limit rest to eight solid hours of restful sleep a night.
While living with lupus can be a challenge, you can protect yourself from the most damaging effects if you work with your doctor to develop the right treatment plan for your needs. At the same time, you can make vital lifestyle alterations to help raise your energy levels and remove factors that contribute to fatigue. It requires commitment and effort, but relief from lupus fatigue is possible.
You might also be interested in:
- 15 Questions - Fatigue and Lupus. http://www.lupus.org/resources/15-questions-fatigue-and-lupus
- Fatigue in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/761829
- Fighting Lupus Fatigue. http://www.webmd.com/lupus/features/lupus-fatigue-causes-treatments
- Living - I'm Living With Lupus. http://www.lupuscanada.org/english/living/1000faces_coping.html