Five Ways to Fight COPD Fatigue
Last updated: March 2021
If you have COPD, then you know fatigue is one of the symptoms that is hardest to battle. In fact, fatigue is the main non-respiratory symptom associated with COPD. It can have a significant effect on your overall quality of life. Let's take a closer look at this symptom and how to combat it.
Fatigue and its relation to COPD
Although COPD is a chronic disease of the respiratory system, it is also referred to as a "systemic" disease. This means that it can affect your whole body. Fatigue can be described as a lack of energy or overall tiredness. There is no consistent way to measure fatigue, and it is considered largely a subjective experience that can vary from person to person. There are valid reasons why fatigue is so prevalent in people who have COPD. Here are a few:
- Poor oxygen flow to your tissues and cells. Because of the changes in your airways, your body does not exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide as it does in a healthy person. This means less oxygen gets to your cells. Think of oxygen like fuel; without it, your cells can't function effectively. And the act of breathing itself can be extremely tiring, which leads to even more fatigue.
- Physical activity becomes overly taxing. When you can't breathe well, you're likely to avoid physical activity. That leads to loss of muscle strength and endurance. So, when you do want to move, you'll fatigue quickly. Have you ever heard the old adage, "Use it or lose it!"?
- Depression and anxiety. We know that COPD can take an emotional toll on the mind and body as well. Fatigue is often associated with depression.
- Overall malaise. As mentioned, even the act of breathing can be fatiguing. Add to that, dealing with respiratory infections and COPD exacerbations, and the fatigue can multiply quickly.
Because fatigue is hard to measure, it is a symptom that is often underdiagnosed and undertreated. The good news is that fatigue does not have to rule your life. There are a number of things you can do to fight fatigue.
Treat what you can
When your COPD is well managed, your symptoms will be less intrusive on your daily life and the quality of your life. You'll feel better and be more motivated to stay active. You'll also be more likely to prevent exacerbations when your COPD is under control.
If symptoms do arise or get worse, talk with your doctor right away so that you can make needed changes to your treatment plan. If you are plagued by depression, seek counseling or ask about prescription medication that can help you feel better.
Take care of yourself
The solution to almost any aspect of poor health, including fatigue, is to adopt as healthy a lifestyle as you can. This includes:
- Eating healthy, including avoiding sugars and processed foods and adding in more fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Drinking plenty of water; a rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces per day (unless advised otherwise by your doctor)
- Getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night
- Managing your stress with relaxation, companionship and humor
- Quit smoking, if you need to, and avoid secondhand smoke
Stay as active as possible
It's hard to be active if you don't breathe well. But, as explained earlier, when you become less active, your muscles become weaker and your stamina suffers. Those effects make it harder to breathe too. Overall, you'll just feel more fatigued. So, be active!
Here are a few suggestions that can help:
- Perform gentle stretching exercises in bed when you wake up in the morning & a few times throughout the day.
- While sitting in a chair, use light handheld weights (1 to 3 pounds) to do some easy strengthening exercises; raise & lower your legs; limit your repetitions to what you can manage; with consistent effort, you'll see improvement over time.
- Get up and walk around the house for 5 minutes every hour that you're awake; if you're able, go outside and walk around your yard, up & down the driveway or even around the block.
- Dance to music when you feel the inspiration!
Learn how to breathe better
Because breathing problems are at the root of COPD-related fatigue, learning how to breathe better will benefit you. Talk with your doctor about a referral to a specialist called a respiratory therapist. These specialists can train you to use breathing exercises that will help you learn to breathe more effectively.
You might also benefit from something called pulmonary rehabilitation. This is a more comprehensive program of education and exercise that goes beyond simple breathing exercises. These group programs can help you improve your fitness level with less shortness of breath.
If supplemental oxygen has been prescribed for you, make sure you know how and when to use it to best help your breathing and stamina.
Focus on a healthy balance of rest and activity
One of the keys to avoiding extreme fatigue and exhaustion is learning how to balance your necessary periods of activity with equal periods of rest. This can take some practice, but you can do it. Rest doesn't have to mean naps or bedtime. It can be as simple as taking 30 minutes to sit quietly and wait for your breath to recover after you've been active.
Alternate rest and activity throughout your day, and you should find that it's possible to greatly lessen your fatigue.
Fatigue is not the whole picture
COPD is a chronic condition, and fatigue is part of the picture. But you don't have to let fatigue keep you from living your life or from having a quality life. You don't have to go through your days with low energy.
Learn how to recognize when fatigue is increasing and work with your healthcare team to get things back under control. Make healthy lifestyle changes and treat yourself with care. And don't give in to COPD or fatigue. Fight for your right to live life!
How do you fight the overwhelming fatigue from COPD? Share your best tips with us!
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