Effectiveness of non-pharmacological interventions for fatigue in adults with multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, or systemic lupus erythematosus: a systematic review

J Adv Nurs. 2006 Dec;56(6):617-35. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2006.04054.x.


Aim: This paper reports a systematic review of non-pharmacological interventions for fatigue in adults with three common autoimmune conditions.

Background: A considerable proportion of people with multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus experience compromised quality of life due to fatigue. Recent reviews of pharmacotherapies for fatigue in these conditions remain inconclusive, and systematic evidence for effectiveness of non-pharmacological interventions was unavailable. Our paper addresses this gap.

Methods: The literature search used the key words fatigue, energy, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus. It included 19 electronic databases and libraries, three evidence-based journals, two internet search engines, was dated 1987-2006, and limited to English. Non-pharmacological experimental studies about fatigue comprising more than five adults were included. Meta-analysis was not possible due to diverse interventions and outcome measures, therefore studies were analysed by types of interventions used to reduce fatigue.

Results: Of 653 hits, 162 papers were reviewed, and 36 met the inclusion criteria. Thirty-three primary studies reported 14 randomized controlled trials and 19 quasi-experimental designs. Most interventions were tested with people with multiple sclerosis. Exercise, behavioural, nutritional and physiological interventions were associated with statistically significant reductions in fatigue. Aerobic exercise was effective, appropriate and feasible for reducing fatigue among adults with chronic autoimmune conditions. Electromagnetic field devices showed promise. The diversity of interventions, designs, and using 24 different instruments to measure fatigue, limited comparisons.

Conclusion: Low impact aerobic exercise gradually increasing in intensity, duration and frequency may be an effective strategy in reducing fatigue in some adults with chronic auto-immune conditions. However, fatigue is a variable and personal experience and a range of behavioural interventions may be required. Well-designed studies testing these promising strategies and consensus on outcome fatigue measures are needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / complications*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy
  • Behavior Therapy
  • Chronic Disease
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Fatigue / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / complications*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / complications*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / therapy