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Coping with Fatigue

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Some Common Complaints:

  • Feeling tired or exhausted, even after a full night’s sleep
  • Feeling depressed and foggy-headed
  • No energy to do regular activities
  • Trouble concentrating
  • No interest in normal activities
  • Spending less time on personal appearance

The Causes of Cancer-Related Fatigue
When the body is fighting cancer, fatigue is normal. The stress of cancer diagnosis can also send a person on an emotional roller-coaster, sometimes leading to depression and the fatigue that comes with it. Fatigue is a common side effect of cancer and cancer treatment.

For example, chemotherapy drugs often cause the number of red blood cells to drop, preventing enough oxygen from reaching body tissues. This problem, called anemia, can cause fatigue.  Sometimes a blood transfusion is needed to raise red blood cell counts. Or, in some cases, medicines that boost red blood cell production may be used. Pain, sleep problems, medicines, diet changes and decreased physical activity are all linked to a cancer diagnosis and can cause fatigue, too.

How to Fight Fatigue
Though it may not make sense, exercise is a good starting point when trying to manage fatigue. Any physical activity that gets the heart rate up is good. While some people wonder how they can manage a walk around the block when even taking a shower is a challenge, experts say even moderate exercise can significantly raise energy levels. It's best to first consult your doctor and then start slowly and work up to an exercise program you can handle.

Other suggestions include:

  1. Get enough rest, taking short naps during the day if needed.
  2. Plan activities for when you have the most energy.
  3. Eat nutritious, frequent, small meals and drink plenty of liquids.
  4. Don’t force yourself to do more than you can manage. Get help preparing meals, doing housework, and running errands. Delegate!
  5. Reduce stress. Try relaxation techniques like meditation.
  6. Keep a journal noting when you feel fatigued and when you don’t, so you can arrange a daily schedule around these times.
  7. Remember: Cancer-related fatigue is short-term; you will get your energy back over time.

Talk to Your Health Care Team about Your Fatigue
The most important thing you can do about fatigue is to let your cancer treatment team know you are experiencing it. Many women say they don’t want to complain, and many doctors don’t ask about fatigue. The result is a communication gap that can keep you from getting the help you need.

No labe tests or x-rays can diagnose or show your level of fatigue. The best measure of fatigue comes from your own description of your fatigue level to your health care team. But fatigue can be hard to describe.

People with fatigue describe it in many ways. They may say they feel tired, weak, exhausted, weary, worn-out, or slow. they may say they have no energy and cannot concentrate. They also talk about having heavy arms and legs, little drive to do anything, being unable to sleep or sleeping too much. they may feel moody, sad, irritable, or frustrated. Patients rarely describe their symptoms as "fatigue" unless their health care team suggests it.

You can describe your levle of fatigue as none, mild, moderate, or severe. Or you can use a scale of 0 to 10, where a 0 means no fatigue at all, and a 10 means the worst fatigue you can imagine. Talk to your doctor or nurse about how to describe your fatigue so they can understand how it affects your everyday life.

There are things that can be done to treat fatigue. The best treatment for you is most likely to be found through open discussion with your doctor and nurse.

Para solicitar información en español, llame al 1-800-227-2345. Un especialista en información sobre el cáncer le asistirá en español.

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