It’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon and your day has been like any other – working, studying, meeting friends, spending time with your family – when that all-too-familiar wave of exhaustion washes over you. Perhaps you could feel it coming, or perhaps it hits you out of the blue. Either way, any plans you had for the rest of the day are well and truly off the table.
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms experienced by people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, with around three quarters of IBD patients experiencing fatigue during a flare-up. For some, that fatigue is a constant companion even in between flares – it is a brick wall that can rise up at any time.
Complications such as anaemia, poor sleep due to medication, or pain levels can also contribute to feelings of exhaustion.
Finding ways to manage fatigue can be a useful tool for Crohn’s and colitis patients, to ensure that the impact of sudden changes in plans due to flagging energy is limited as much as possible.
TIPS FOR MANAGING FATIGUE
- Keep a close eye on those blood tests
Checking on iron levels, vitamin B12 and other chemical or nutrient deficiencies can help your treatment team to find the right mix of medication for you. Adding iron supplements or reducing the dosage of a medication can make a world of difference to energy levels for some people.
- Focus on keeping fit
While being careful not to overstress yourself, try gradually increasing the amount of physical activity you do. Make use of a gym membership, walk rather than catching the bus for shorter trips, or commit to a team sport. Improving your overall fitness can ensure your energy stores are higher, potentially reducing the impact of those fatigue-ridden days.
- Assess your diet
Do you have any foods that make you feel heavier, or sluggish? Complex carbohydrates such as cereals or porridge can provide you with energy over a longer time frame, while simple carbohydrates (those cakes, biscuits and other sugary treats we are all fond of) will give you a short burst of energy, often followed by a ‘low’. Consider if you are getting a good mix of fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates for energy, and rich protein.
- Manage your workload
Wherever possible, ensure your workplace, family or education provider is aware of your condition and see what flexibility is available with responsibilities, work hours and prior planning. For example, taking the afternoon off following a doctor’s appointment may be a welcome break to rest, recover and prepare for the next week.
- Know your body
You are the best person to assess when you need to rest or recharge. If you need a break halfway through the morning, or in the early afternoon, find a way to make time for this. Get a good night’s sleep whenever possible, explore restorative therapies such as yoga or remedial massage if they work for you, and make your health a priority not only in times of flares, but every day. Building good habits during your good days can make the bad ones just that little bit easier down the line.
And if all else fails? A cup of coffee, a hug from a loved one, or a couple of episodes of your favourite television show can sometimes make all the difference.