Fatigue is not like ‘normal’ tiredness. It is extreme tiredness that does not go away when you rest or after sleep.
What is fatigue?
Fatigue is not like ‘normal’ tiredness. It is extreme tiredness that does not go away when you rest or after sleep. People have described fatigue as ‘being drained of energy’ or that ‘sitting up was sometimes too much of an effort’. Fatigue is the most common symptom experienced by cancer patients. Many studies have found that most of the patient’s experience fatigue. It is one of the most overlooked and under-treated side effects of cancer.
Fatigue is a difficult thing to measure. Research suggests that up to 9 out of 10 people with cancer are affected. It is one of the most common symptoms that people with lymphoma report. Cancer-related fatigue can be mild, or it can be severe. It is not known why some people suffer from fatigue more than others.
Fatigue may be tied to several factors:
- The lymphoma itself putting a strain on the body
- Emotional impact of cancer diagnosis and treatment
- Pain from the lymphoma or surgery
- Anaemia (low red blood cells)
- Changes in hormone levels and proteins that regulate inflammatory processes can lead to increased levels of fatigue
What are the symptoms of fatigue?
There are many different symptoms that fatigue can cause that include:
- Simple chores seem overwhelming
- You feel as if you have no energy and could spend whole day in bed
- Waking up tired after a full night’s sleep
- Feeling sluggish or slow
- Trouble thinking and making decisions
- Impaired concentration
- Mental fog
- Breathless after only light activity
- Loss of sex drive
- You feel sad, frustrated, or upset
- Feelings of isolation
- Tiredness disrupts your work, social life, or daily routine
How to cope with fatigue?
Fatigue can affect many activities and daily living. There are some things that can help:
- Take several short naps and breaks during the day
- Try to keep a regular sleep pattern each night. Get at least 8 hours of sleep each night
- Take short walks. 30 minutes’ walk 3 times a week is a realistic goal
- Ask family to help with daily tasks. Accept help making meals, cleaning, gardening, shopping and housework
- Break down tasks into manageable chunks
- Set realistic goals. Prioritise the most important tasks
- Avoid stress where possible
- Eat well. Eat healthy, balanced meals and snacks
- Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration can make the fatigue worse
- Relaxation therapies such as yoga and meditation
- Complementary therapies such as acupuncture and massage
- Keep a fatigue diary to identify when your energy levels are high and low
Treatment of fatigue
- Blood transfusion if fatigue is the result of low red blood cells (Anaemia)
- Infection treatment if fatigue is related to infection
- Nutritional advice if you are not eating well. A Dietitian will give some advice to help with nutrition and calories. Iron and B12 supplements may also be given.
- Maintaining adequate fluid intake to flush through toxins and waste products that can also cause fatigue
- Counselling to help with depression and anxiety
- Find a support group
Olivia Warner, OT, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre