Managing Cancer Related Fatigue
Cancer-related fatigue is an intense feeling of exhaustion. It is the most common side effect of cancer and cancer treatment.
It is different from the fatigue caused by the demands of daily living. It can come on quickly and last beyond the time of treatment. It can keep you from enjoying the things that you like to do. Rest may not help it go away.
The person with fatigue is the only one who really knows about the existence and severity of that fatigue. There are no tests or scans or physical changes to measure how much fatigue a person is having. That’s why it is important to tell your nurses and doctors about fatigue.
Signs and Symptoms
- heaviness in your body
- trouble concentrating
- lack of interest in work, friends, and activities
The exact cause of the fatigue is not known. Some of the most common causes are:
- the cancer itself
- chemotherapy or radiation
- low blood counts
- nutritional problems
- sleep problems
- emotional concerns such as depression, fear, worry, or anxiety
Tracking your fatigue
Keep a daily diary of your fatigue symptoms. This can help you figure out patterns in your fatigue. You can use this 0 – 10 scale to measure your levels of fatigue.
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Write down your level of fatigue and the activities you do during the day. After a few days, look over your diary to see if you can find any patterns. Are there events that seem to tire you out? Are there other things that seem to give you a boost in energy? If you find a pattern, use it to help plan your routines. Try to avoid the things that make you feel tired, and do more of those that boost your energy level.
Talking about fatigue with your health care providers
Bring your diary with you to your clinic visits. If your doctor or nurse know how severe your fatigue is and when it happens, they will be better able to help you. In some cases, medicines or a blood transfusion may be helpful.
What you can do to manage fatigue
While you may not be able to prevent or avoid fatigue completely, there are things you can do to help reduce it.
- Plan: Plan in advance. Space activities throughout the day. Balance them with plenty of rest. Learn to ask for help and accept it. Make a list of chores that need to be done. Knowing exact ways to help you will make other people feel good too!
- Prioritize: Decide which activities you really want to do. Save your energy for them.
- Pace: Take rests as needed during and between activities. Try to rest before you become exhausted. If you find you feel exhausted – STOP!
- Position: Save energy where you can. Sit down while you work. Get special equipment if needed. Set up your house to be more efficient.
- Restore energy: Some activities can boost your energy level. Take time for things you really enjoy. Below are a few ideas:
- listen to music
- spend time with friends and loved ones
- take a walk
Try to get a good night’s sleep. These tips may help you get enough rest.
- Take short naps or breaks rather than one long nap during the day. Short naps (less than 30 minutes) can energize you. Long naps may leave you feeling more fatigued and may disrupt your nighttime sleep.
- Read a book or take a bath before bed to help you relax.
- Try to keep regular sleep times. Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day.
- Follow a nightly routine before going to bed.
- If you are not sleeping well at night, talk to your doctor or nurse. They may suggest medicine to help you sleep better.
- If you drink caffeine, drink it early in the day and in moderation.
Too much rest or sleep can make you feel more tired.
20-30 minutes of exercise (such as walking) 3-5 times a week can reduce fatigue. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.
Proper nutrition can also help reduce fatigue. You may have problems eating. This may be caused by: fatigue, poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, or feelings of fullness.
- Eat small meals more often.
- Allow someone else to cook for you, or use frozen or easy to prepare foods.
- Talk with your nurse or doctor if you are having trouble eating or if you are concerned about your diet.
Talking with your family and friends about fatigue
Share your feelings about fatigue with friends and family. Let them know what they can do to help you. Not talking about your fatigue can lead to resentment and feelings of guilt.
Sometimes it is very helpful to talk with others who are going through the same thing. Your nurse can give you a list of support groups.
Call your doctor or nurse if
- You feel short of breath.
- You feel lightheaded.
- You feel confused or cannot think clearly.
- You have been too tired to get out of bed for the past 24 hours.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 02/01/2013
Copyright © 02/01/2013 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#4384
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