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Seasonal variations in fatigue in persons with rheumatoid arthritis: a longitudinal study

Journal article
Authors Caroline Feldthusen
Anna Grimby-Ekman
Helena Forsblad d'Elia
Lennart T. H. Jacobsson
Kaisa Mannerkorpi
Published in Bmc Musculoskeletal Disorders
Volume 17
ISSN 1471-2474
Publication year 2016
Published at University of Gothenburg Centre for person-centred care (GPCC)
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Clinical Neuroscience and Rehabilitation
Institute of Medicine, Department of Rheumatology and Inflammation Research
Institute of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Health Metrics
Language en
Keywords Fatigue, Rheumatoid arthritis, Longitudinal study, Seasons, Outcome measures, visual analog scales, numerical rating-scales, disease-activity, physical-activity, multidimensional questionnaire, patient perspective, pain, quality, experience, severity, Orthopedics, Rheumatology
Subject categories Rheumatology and Autoimmunity


Background: Fatigue is a prominent symptom in persons with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Although this symptom has been described to vary in duration and frequency little is known about fluctuations in fatigue over time and season. The aim of this study was to describe monthly and seasonal variations in fatigue, in persons with RA of working age. Methods: Sixty-five participants diagnosed with RA and aged 20-65 years were recruited from a rheumatology clinic in Sweden. The participants provided self-assessments of their fatigue at seven time points during the four seasons using a 0-100 mm visual analogue scale (VAS) and the Bristol Rheumatoid Arthritis Fatigue Multidimensional Questionnaire (BRAF-MDQ). Multiple regression analysis using mixed models was used to analyze changes in fatigue over time. Results: The mean +/- SD of fatigue rated on the VAS was 51 +/- 13, indicating substantial fatigue. Analysis of monthly variation showed statistically significant variation in fatigue ratings concerning VAS fatigue score (p < 0.01) as well as the BRAF-MDQ total score and Living, Cognition (p < 0.001), and Physical (p < 0.05) sub-scores, but not the BRAF-MDQ Emotional sub-score. The greatest variations were seen from January to September, with higher fatigue ratings in January. The changes in VAS fatigue scores over time were considered to be of clinical importance. Analysis of seasonal variation revealed a statistically significant seasonal variation in fatigue levels, with higher fatigue values during the winter as measured by VAS fatigue score (p < 0.01) as well as BRAF-MDQ total score (p < 0.01) and Physical and Living sub-scores (both p < 0.01). The greatest variation was seen between winter and autumn for VAS fatigue and between winter and summer for BRAF-MDQ total score and Physical and Living sub-scores. There were no statistical differences in fatigue levels, monthly or seasonal, between sexes or age groups. Conclusions: The majority of rating scales used in this study showed fluctuations in fatigue, general and physical fatigue being significantly greater during the winter. As fatigue is a substantial symptom in many persons with RA, this information is important for rheumatology professionals when dealing with persons with RA in routine care.

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