Fatigue: The Silent Symptom

Fatigue: The Silent Symptom

While dyspnea (labored or shortness of breath) is often the most experienced, and most recognized, symptom of COPD, fatigue, or lack of energy, is frequently cited as an even more impactful symptom–especially in terms of personal quality of life.

Fatigue is the “silent” symptom that many outsiders don’t fully appreciate or even attribute to COPD. We all feel tired sometimes–it’s a normal part of the human experience. But recognizing, and acting upon, COPD-related fatigue can be crucial for avoiding exacerbation and hospitalizations.

Cause of Fatigue

While there are many peripheral causes of fatigue, the primary culprit in COPD is lack of oxygen in the bloodstream. Because of the progressive damage COPD causes the lungs, the air sacs are hindered in their ability to absorb the oxygen you breathe, causing diminished energy for all bodily functions.

Impact on Quality of Life

Fatigue can affect any and every part of the day. Sixty-nine percent of respondents in the COPD In America study reported experiencing frequent fatigue, and 79% report that their frequent experience of fatigue is one of the biggest impacts on their daily life.

Additionally, a study published in Chest Journal found a strong link between experienced fatigue and perceptions of personal quality of life and depression. Regardless of pulmonary symptoms, higher reports of fatigue were associated with lower levels of perceived quality of life, and greater feelings of depression.2 Constant exertion can weigh on the body both physically and emotionally, and feeling like you have to justify your lack of energy to friends and family can be a burden in itself.

But fatigue can be more than just a frustrating symptom to fight–it could also be an indicator of future exacerbations. A study published in the European Respiratory Journal highlighted the predictive nature of COPD fatigue: participants who reported experiencing severe fatigue were 14 times more likely to be hospitalized within the next twenty months than those experiencing less fatigue.1

These studies, among others, shine a light on the importance of recognizing and treating fatigue as a primary, impactful symptom for those with COPD. However, because fatigue can be such a ubiquitous symptom caused by a variety of conditions, it’s easy to overlook and underestimate, especially for those on the outside looking in. But if you or your loved one have been struggling with a recent lack of energy, it might be time to prioritize that topic with your physician.

Ways to Counteract Fatigue

While there are no specific treatments for fatigue, with the exception of additional oxygen, there are lifestyle tips that can help minimize the tiredness and lack of energy.

Keep Active—While it may seem counterintuitive, mild exercise can actually fight the feeling of fatigue, and keep feelings of depression at bay. Exercise increases and enhances blood flow which allows for oxygen and nutrients to more effectively reach the cells and muscle tissue in your body, encouraging greater energy production.3

Stay Hydrated—Water, Gatorade, or other beverages with low sugar and electrolytes will help counteract the feeling of fatigue. Because almost every cell in our bodies is made up primarily of water, sufficient hydration is key to ensuring optimal function. Drink water throughout the day so that your urine is consistently transparent and light in color. Tip: if you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.

Fresh Air—Ensuring that a large percentage of the air you breath is fresh, outdoor air can make a significant difference. Studies conducted by the EPA find that indoor levels of air pollutants can be 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor levels. Breathing the stale oxygen found in enclosed indoor spaces requires the body to work harder for basic function, ultimately causing fatigue.

View References
  1. Paddison, Johanna Susan, et al. "Fatigue in COPD: association with functional status and hospitalisations." European Respiratory Journal 41.3 (2013): 565-570.
  2. Breslin, Eileen, et al. "Perception of fatigue and quality of life in patients with COPD." CHEST Journal 114.4 (1998): 958-964.
  3. Puetz, Timothy W., Patrick J. O'Connor, and Rod K. Dishman. "Effects of chronic exercise on feelings of energy and fatigue: a quantitative synthesis."Psychological bulletin 132.6 (2006): 866.

Comments

View Comments (15)
  • usnretired
    7 months ago

    Hi everyone. I’ve found out what I’ve learned in here about how to fight the COPD tired is become active. If I force myself to get started on an activity I’m a whole lot better feeling than if I do what I feel like doing and taking a nap in my easy chair after I already had 10 hrs. of sleep. So trying to be active does seem to help alot.
    I have a question for you all. I’m 63, had to quit working this year after a major COPD exaberration which triggered AFIB . My heart is stable now with meds, and I feel like I have stopped improving on my lung function at about a quarter of what I was before all this started. I don’t have to work as I’m retired Navy plus I had to go on SS when I couldn’t work so my wife and I can make it ok on the money. Before I got sick I was mowing 4 or 5 yards a day as a little business.. But now I can mow 1 a day early morning with slight struggle. Do you all think if I worked outside mowing one yard a day for activity and extra cash would be bad for me? Or should I find something out of the heat to get my activity? I love taking care of people’s yard, I just don’t know if it’s good for me. Im 100 percent scared of another exaberration, as you can see what it did to me. Another one I may end up on oxygen. Plz give me your thoughts experts, Thanks,
    Mark

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    7 months ago

    Hi Mark (usnretired) – good to hear back from you. I believe you have the correct approach by making sure you stay active. Sure, as you said, it’s easy to sit back and nap after a complete night’s rest but, if you just get yourself started (with an activity) and follow through, you’ll have a feeling of accomplishment and adhere to the ‘staying active’ philosophy!
    As for whether you should be caring for folk’s yards, that is a question you may want to take up with your physician. As you well know, triggers of COPD exacerbations vary from person-to-person AND you would be prudent to avoid them when you are able.
    Please check back with us and let us know how you’re doing – we can discuss this further as you see fit.
    Warm regards,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • usnretired
    8 months ago

    Thanks Leon.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    8 months ago

    It’s my pleasure usnretired! Warm regards, Leon (site moderator)

  • shirley201
    8 months ago

    Hi Alesandra. Yes I’ve spoken to my usual GP today about the flu vaccination and she advises as soon as I’ve gotten over this “speed bump” on the COPD road that I return and have the vaccination and I’ve made a follow up appointment in a couple of weeks.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi shirley201 and thanks for bringing us up-to-date on your particular situation. This sounds like a prudent plan. Wishing you the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • usnretired
    8 months ago

    I can get. 10hrs. Of sound sleep. Get up and eat breakfast and be so weak I’m ready to go back to bed and sleep till noon. Every day like this. WHY ?

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi unretired and we hear you! Many of our community members have spoken about their constant tired feeling living with COPD. I thought you might find it helpful and enlightening to look over this article on that very topic: https://copd.net/living/tired-vs-copd-tired/. I’m hopeful this material will provide you with a bit more insight for your concern. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • shirley201
    8 months ago

    Good reading and have noticed an improvement by making sure I get out of the house and walk every day, hadn’t thought about the impact of stale air on fatigue ! Have a cold virus at the moment which is making breathing a little challenging but I’m making myself go for a short walk and it’s helping move the copious amounts of mucus, hopefully tomorrow brings an improvement !

  • Alesandra Bevilacqua moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi shirley201! I’m glad you enjoyed our article. I’m so happy to hear you’ve noticed an improvement after taking time to get fresh air – I myself didn’t realize the potential impact either! I do hope your cold subsides soon. Keep us posted on how you feel tomorrow if you’re up for sharing 🙂 – Alesandra (COPD.net Team)

  • shirley201
    8 months ago

    Update! Had a other challenging night trying to sleep propped up with a blocked nose and waking up coughing and don’t want to cough anymore it hurts so bad ! Took myself to the GP and he listened to my chest and it seems clear thank goodness but he suspects a sinus infection, so I’ve got antibiotics to take for 10 days ! He suggested a flu vaccination and I said maybe, but not today as I feel compromised enough currently. The one and only time I had a flu vaccination I got really ill with chest infection some months later so I’ve not had them again, but wondering whether I should start ?

  • Alesandra Bevilacqua moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi shirley201 and thanks for coming back with your update! So sorry to hear your coughing fits have you in a lot of pain. I’m really glad you were able to go the doctor and get yourself some antibiotics to treat your sinus infection… Hope you get better soon! Getting the flu vaccination is entirely up to you. Did you speak with your doctor about your hesitation to get the vaccine this time around? I encourage you to chat with him about your concerns so you both can figure out what will work best for you. Thanks again for sharing! Here’s hoping that sinus infection goes away soon. – Alesandra (COPD.net Team)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi shirley201 – we’re glad you found value in this article. Like Alesandra said, staying active is a vital part of managing one’s COPD and getting out and walking can play a big role. Sometimes staying ‘cooped up’ inside can contribute to cabin fever as well. I thought you might find it helpful to look over this article on that very topic: https://copd.net/living/avoiding-cabin-fever/. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • cassell
    2 years ago

    Lordy, am I glad I found this site! Fatigue is an on-going fight for me. and yes it diminishes the desire to even leave the house. Depression? Yes, fight it every day. However, today was one of the good days. Did some chores, make some soup and met a wonderful doctor who specializes in eliminating pain without meds…going back Friday! Felt really good after seeing him.

  • Jenn Patel
    2 years ago

    Hi cassell!

    We’re so glad you found our site as well! Thank you so much for your comment. You’re definitely not alone in what you’re going through – there are so many people here who can relate to fatigue and depression.

    It was great to hear about your good day today. We’re so glad to hear that. Best of luck with your appointment today! We wish you continued success with that new doc!

    Please do keep in touch. We love hearing from you!

    Best,
    Jenn (Community Manager, COPD.net)

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