Fatigue—feeling tired and lacking energy—is a very common symptom reported by cancer patients. The exact cause is not always known. It can be due to your disease,
radiation, surgery, low blood counts, lack of sleep, pain, stress, and poor appetite, along with many other factors.
Fatigue from chemotherapy feels different from fatigue of everyday life. Fatigue caused by chemotherapy can appear suddenly. Patients with cancer have described it as a total lack of energy and have used words such as worn out, drained, and wiped out to describe their fatigue. Rest does not always relieve it. Not everyone feels the same kind of fatigue. You may not feel tired while someone else does, or your fatigue may not last as long as someone else's does. It can last days, weeks, or even months.
Here are some tips on coping with fatigue:
- Plan your day so that you have time to rest.
- Take short naps or breaks, rather than one long rest period.
- Save your energy for the most important things.
- Try easier or shorter versions of activities that you enjoy.
- Take short walks and do light exercise, if possible. Exercise may help to reduce fatigue.
- Talk to your doctor about ways to save your energy and treat your fatigue. Certain medicines may be helpful in reducing your symptoms depending on the cause of your fatigue.
- Try activities like meditation, yoga, guided imagery, and visualization.
- Consider alternative therapies like acupuncture.
- Eat as well as you can and drink plenty of fluids. Eat small amounts at a time, if that is helpful. Your doctor may have you work with a dietician to make sure that you are meeting your nutritional needs.
- Limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol you drink.
- Join a support group. Sharing your feelings with others can ease the burden of fatigue. You can learn how others deal with their fatigue. Your doctor can connect you with a support group in your area. You may also find it helpful to work with a therapist.
- Ask family and friends to help you with household chores and shopping.
- Keep a diary of how you feel each day. This will help you plan your daily activities.
- Report any changes in energy level to your doctor.
Cancer-related fatigue. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: . Accessed September 19, 2012.
Cancer-related fatigue. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated June 1, 2012. Accessed September 19, 2012.
Fatigue. American Cancer Society website. Available at: . Updated March 24, 2011. Accessed September 19, 2012.
Fatigue (feeling weak and very tired). National Cancer Institute website. Available at: . Accessed September 19, 2012.
2/4/2013 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Molassiotis A, Bardy J, Finnegan-John J, et al. Acupuncture for cancer-related fatigue in patients with breast cancer: a pragmatic randomized controlled trial.
J Clin Oncol. 2012;30(36):4470-4476.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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