How to manage chronic fatigue with IBD

A symptom that really took its toll since my Crohn’s disease diagnosis is the fatigue. I feel like it was the part of IBD that people didn’t discuss much when I found out about the condition. Despite this, it impacts so many people living with long-term health conditions on a daily basis. Fatigue seems to be something that arrives at the door the same time as a chronic illness diagnosis. While I still struggle with fatigue regularly, I am starting to recognise what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to managing it. Disclaimer, I’m not a doctor, but from first-hand IBD fatigue experience, these are some tips that I have picked up along the way on how to manage chronic fatigue with IBD.

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is not the same as feeling a bit tired after a long day at work and wanting an early night. It’s an all consuming feeling of no energy, brain fog, inability to concentrate, and extreme tiredness. Simple tasks like making a cup of tea, or having a shower can feel like someone is asking you to climb Mount Everest. Unlike general tiredness, which may be relieved after a night’s sleep, fatigue is an ongoing symptom.

Listen to your mind and body

It’s hard not feel frustrated when you experience fatigue. However, if your mind and body are telling you that you need to rest, then take the time to look after yourself and have regular rest breaks in your day. Trying to force yourself to work while experiencing fatigue will make the situation worse and prolong the fatigue. Even when you having a good day, it’s important to pace yourself. You may think ‘Ooh I have loads of energy today, time to get things done’, but that can then tire you out the next day.

Get a blood test to check your vitamin levels

When I’m going through a fatigue spell that is getting worse or lasting longer than usual, something I always try and do is go to my GP and get a blood test done. Living with a digestive disorder, sometimes this can affect your ability to absorb key vitamins and minerals properly, leading to deficiencies and malnutrition. It’s always important to have iron, B12, and D levels checked as well as all the other vitamins, as shortages in these vitamins are known to affect fatigue levels.

In addition to vitamins, stress and hormone level have also been linked to fatigue, A Balanced Belly has an informative post about stress, gut health and all things adrenal glands and cortisol production.

Medication side effects

I know for me that side effects of IBD medication can be fatigue. This doesn’t mean that you will experience a particular side effect, but if you are concerned about your medication, then do speak to your doctor.

Stay well fed and hydrated

Staying well hydrated and well fed is important if you are feeling fatigued. A sign of dehydration can be fatigue, as your body is trying to work without enough water. Likewise, it’s good to choose foods such as protein and complex carbohydrates, which release energy over a longer period of time. Simple carbohydrates and sugars on the other hand release energy very quickly followed by a slump afterwards.

Exercise (but go easy)

It may seem counter intuitive, but gentle exercise can help to relieve fatigue symptoms. A small walk or yoga are ways to trial this. Spells of long, higher intensity exercise are more likely to not help, especially if you do have an unknown vitamin deficiency, but it is worth giving some gentle movement a go. It’s not for everyone, but personally I find some fresh air to be a huge boost.

How do you manage chronic fatigue with IBD or another chronic health condition?