Fatigue is a common side effect of many cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, bone marrow transplant and surgery. Conditions such as anemia, as well as pain, medications and emotions can also cause or worsen fatigue.
People often describe cancer-related fatigue as feeling extremely tired, weak, heavy, run down and having no energy. Resting does not always help with cancer-related fatigue, making it one of the most difficult side effects for many people.
If you feel extremely weak or tired, even after sleeping, tell your healthcare team right away. There are many causes of fatigue. Keeping track of your levels of energy throughout the day will help your doctor to assess your fatigue. Write down how fatigue affects your daily activities and what makes the fatigue better or worse.
Your care team may advise you to take some of these or other steps to feel better:
- Make a plan that balances rest and activity. Choose activities that are relaxing for you. Many people pick to listen to music, read, meditate, practice guided imagery or spend time with people they enjoy. Relaxing can help you save your energy and lower stress. Light exercise may also be advised by your doctor to give you more energy and help you feel better.
- Plan time to rest. If you are tired, take short naps of less than one hour during the day. However, too much sleep during the day can make it difficult to sleep at night. Choose the activities that are most important to you and do them when you have the most energy. Ask for help with important tasks such as making meals or driving.
- Eat and drink well. Meet with a registered dietitian to learn about foods and drinks that can increase your level of energy. Foods high in protein and calories will help you keep up your strength. Some people find it easier to eat many small meals throughout the day instead of three big meals. Stay well hydrated, too, and limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol.
- Meet with a specialist. It may help to meet with a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist. These experts help people to cope with difficult thoughts and feelings. Lowering stress may give you more energy. Since pain that is not controlled can also be major source of fatigue, it may help to meet with a pain or palliative care specialist.
For help managing fatigue and other side effects during cancer treatment, contact Gundersen's Center for Cancer & Blood Disorders: During business hours (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday), call (608) 775-2385 or toll-free at (800) 362-9567 and ask for extension 52385; outside of business hours or on holidays, call (608) 782-7300 and ask for the oncologist or hematologist on call.
*Article adapted from the National Cancer Institute.
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