Is fatigue an inflammatory variable in rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? Analyses of fatigue in RA, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia

J Rheumatol. 2009 Dec;36(12):2788-94. doi: 10.3899/jrheum.090561. Epub 2009 Nov 16.


Objective: To investigate whether fatigue is an inflammatory (rheumatoid arthritis; RA) variable, the contributions of RA variables to fatigue, and the levels of fatigue in RA compared with osteoarthritis (OA) and fibromyalgia (FM).

Methods: We studied 2096 RA patients, 1440 with OA, and 1073 with FM in a clinical setting, and 14,607 RA, 3173 OA, and 2487 patients with FM in survey research. We partitioned variables into inflammatory and noninflammatory factors and examined variable contribution to fatigue (0-10 visual analog scale).

Results: Factor analysis identified Disease Activity Score-28 (DAS28) and swollen (SJC) and tender joint count (TJC) as a physician-inflammation factor, and patient global assessment, pain, Health Assessment Questionnaire, and fatigue as patient components. Fatigue demonstrated weak correlations with erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR; r = 0.071) and SJC (r = 0.112), weak to fair correlations with TJC (r = 0.294), physician global assessment of RA activity (r = 0.384), and DAS28 (r = 0.399), but strong correlation with patient global assessment of severity (r = 0.567). In hierarchical regression analysis, patient global explained 43.1% of DAS28 fatigue variance; when SJC, TJC, and ESR were entered, the explained variance increased to 43.7%. In reverse order, SJC, TJC, and ESR explained 9.2% of the variance, but explained variance increased to 43.7% when patient global was added. The mean clinic fatigue scores were RA 4.9, OA 4.8, FM 7.6; mean survey scores were RA 4.5, OA 4.4, FM 6.3. Adjusted for age and sex, RA and OA fatigue scores were not significantly different.

Conclusion: Inflammatory components of the DAS28 contribute minimally to fatigue. RA and OA fatigue levels do not differ. Fatigue is not an inflammatory variable and has no unique association with RA or RA therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid* / immunology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid* / physiopathology
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Fatigue* / immunology
  • Fatigue* / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Fibromyalgia* / immunology
  • Fibromyalgia* / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis* / immunology
  • Osteoarthritis* / physiopathology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires