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The Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program of BC

For Patients & Families
Complications & Side Effects

Fatigue

"Fatigue” is a common medical condition for people with cancer. For most people, fatigue is a temporary condition that occurs after doing some moderate to heavy activity. It usually goes away after you rest or take a quick nap. However, for cancer patients, fatigue can be chronic (meaning it doesn’t go away), and can severely affect their health and quality of life.

Causes of Fatigue

One of the most common causes of fatigue is chemotherapy treatment. Chemotherapy can lower the number of hemoglobin in your blood. Hemoglobin carry oxygen throughout your body and give you energy. Having fewer hemoglobin means that your body gets "out of breath" when you do something even mildly strenuous. Other factors that can contribute to fatigue are general cancer pain, disruption of eating and sleeping habits which are often due to nausea, pain and/or routine changes.

Signs of Fatigue

Although weakness and exhaustion are obvious indicators of fatigue, you also need to pay attention to some subtler signs.

These less obvious signs include pain in your legs, difficulties climbing stairs or walking short distances, and being short of breath after only light activity, like cooking a meal or taking a shower. Fatigue can affect the way you think and feel. It can cause you to have difficulty in concentrating, lose interest in your normal activities, and make you impatient.

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Management

Everyone feels and deals with fatigue differently. Let your health care team know that you are experiencing fatigue. They can provide you with helpful information to improve fatigue, or prescribe treatments and medication to treat physical conditions like anemia.

Here are some helpful tips to assist you in dealing with fatigue:

  • Take several short naps or breaks, rather than one, long rest period.
  • Plan your day so that you have time to rest.
  • Take short walks or do some light exercise if possible. Some people find this decreases their fatigue and helps them sleep better at night.
  • Try easier or short versions of the activities you enjoy.
  • Eat as well as you can, and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Ask your family or friends to help you with tasks you find difficult or taxing.
  • Keep a diary of how you feel each day. This will help you with planning your daily activities, and can help you and your medical team regulate any anti-fatigue medication you may be taking.
  • Join a support group, or seek help from a BMT social worker. Sharing your experience with others can ease the burden of fatigue, and you can learn coping strategies from talking about it.
  • Cultivate less strenuous interests such as listening to music or reading.

Remember that you don’t have to do everything! Save your energy for things you find most important!

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