Fatigue is feeling excessively tired or exhausted all or most of the time. Many people find fatigue to be one of the most distressing symptoms they experience when living with a terminal illness. It can prevent you enjoying activities, engaging with family and friends or even carrying out your normal routine. Fatigue may result from your disease but there could be other factors contributing to how you feel, such as medications, treatments, poor eating or sleeping patterns, anxiety, depression, conditions such as anaemia or low-grade infection, uncontrolled pain or other symptoms. These factors should all be considered by your doctor so that, when possible, your treatment can be adjusted.
What can help fatigue
Some causes of fatigue can be treated. For example, tiredness caused by anaemia can be helped by medications such as iron therapy or vitamins or if the anaemia is severe, a blood transfusion. Sometimes a course of steroids can help relieve fatigue. Planning ahead, pacing yourself and prioritising your most important tasks will help make sure you are able to do the things that are most important to you. Getting help with some tasks will leave you with more energy to do the things you enjoy. For example, many supermarkets now offer online shopping with home delivery.
You could also think about rearranging your home to make things easier, such as having your bedroom as close to the toilet as possible and arranging your kitchen with frequently used items stored within easy reach. An occupational therapist can provide gadgets to make everyday chores easier to manage. Try sitting down to do everyday tasks like washing, dressing and preparing food. Carry heavy items like laundry or shopping in a trolley. Having a mobile or cordless phone means you don’t have to rush to answer a call. A baby monitor is a good way of talking to someone in another room without having to get up, especially at night.
Research has found that doing some exercise can help relieve the symptoms of fatigue. Going for a short walk can be a good start. Your doctor, nurse or physiotherapist can advise you about how much and which type of exercise would be helpful for you. Keeping a diary of what you have done can be very helpful. The Shopmobility, Motability and Blue Badge schemes may be able to help you get out and about. Ask your nurse or social worker for details. You may find that your hospital or hospice has a course on managing fatigue that your doctor, nurse or physiotherapist can refer you to.
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Last reviewed: 01.10.2020
Next review date: 01.10.2023