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Chemotherapy and Fatigue

Fatigue is the most common symptom reported by people with cancer, and chemotherapy is one of the common causes. If you are undergoing chemotherapy and fatigue occurs, there are some things you can try to relieve your feelings of tiredness and lack of energy. Some of these suggestions include taking short naps, drinking plenty of fluids, and limiting the amount of caffeine or alcohol you consume.

Understanding Fatigue and Chemotherapy

Fatigue (feeling tired and lacking energy) is often experienced by people with cancer. The exact cause is not always known. It can be due to the cancer, chemotherapy (see Chemotherapy Side Effects), radiation, surgery, low blood counts, lack of sleep, pain, stress, or poor appetite, as well as many other factors.
 
Fatigue from cancer feels different from the fatigue of everyday life. Fatigue caused by chemotherapy can appear suddenly. People with cancer have described it as a total lack of energy. They have described themselves as being "worn out," "drained," and "wiped out." In many cases, rest does not always relieve this problem.
 
Not everyone feels the same kind of fatigue. You may not feel tired when someone else does. Also, your fatigue may not last as long as it does for other people. It can last days, weeks, or months. However, severe fatigue does go away gradually as the tumor responds to the cancer treatment.
 

Treating Chemotherapy-Related Fatigue

If you are undergoing chemotherapy and fatigue is a problem, there are some things that you can try. Some suggestions include:
 
  • Plan your day so that you have time to rest.
     
  • Take short naps or breaks, rather than one long rest period.
     
  • Try easier or shorter versions of activities you enjoy.
     
  • Take short walks or do light exercise, if possible; you may find this helps with fatigue.
     
  • Save your energy for the most important things.
     
  • Talk with your healthcare provider about ways to save your energy and treat your fatigue.
     
  • Try activities such as meditation, prayer, yoga, guided imagery, visualization, or other complementary therapies (see Alternative Cancer Treatment).
     
  • Eat as well as you can and drink plenty of fluids. Eat small amounts of food at a time, if that is helpful.
     
  • Join a support group. Sharing your feelings with others can ease the burden of fatigue; you can learn how others deal with this problem. Your healthcare provider can put you in touch with a support group in your area.
     
  • Limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol you drink.
     
  • Allow others to do some things for you that you usually do.
     
  • Keep a diary of how you feel each day. This will help you plan your daily activities.
     
  • Report any changes in your energy level to your healthcare provider or nurse.
     
(For a list of other common chemotherapy-related problems besides fatigue, click Chemotherapy Side Effects.)
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