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fatigued, slumped

Five Ways to Fight COPD Fatigue

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 It’s 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.

1. 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.

2. 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

3. 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!

4. 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.

5. 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.

In Summary

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!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Paulc451
    10 months ago

    I have been diagnosed with severe COPD. When first diagnosed a year ago, it was considered mild, however, I continued to smoke and it progressed much quicker than expected….I am now pretty much a non smoker – 1-2 every 4 to 6 days. I was feeling the fatigue and was napping in the afternoon even with a full nights sleep.

    In November, my scooter, which I was using to get around, needed new batteries – I couldn’t afford the $600. It was then I decided – I’m not going to spend the winter locked up in my apartment so I started to walk. 20 minutes the first couple of weeks. It’s now August and apart from very humid days (I learned when I ended up with a lung infection which had to be treated, that humidity is a killer for me), I walk up to 3 times a day, for anywhere from an hour, to 3.5 hours at a time. My breathing is great with my oxygen levels now hitting 94-95 after a very low reading in January. Yes, I still nap in the afternoon but an hour is it.

    Some days, I’m still totally unmotivated and tired but my walk is the one thing that is really important to me so even on those days, if just for an hour, I walk.

    I just want to encourage my fellow COPD…ers, if you can, use your puffers, wait till you feel your breathing is good, and start walking – a little at a time and increase it over time. I know this won’t work for everyone, but trust me, the benefits for me have been incredible…..and if you still smoke – cut wayyyyyy back as much as you can….I am in a quit smoking program for 26 weeks – they have supplied everything. I have gone from 32 mg patches to 14mg, and in just over a week, and dropping to a 7mg patch….if you have the willpower and the tools, it can be done!

    Best of luck to all of you – be hopeful and do your best to be as healthy as you can! Yes it is progressive, I am aware of that even for myself but as long as I can walk and breathe, I will continue to do so. I am 59….. 🙂

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    10 months ago

    Hi Paulc451 and thanks for your post. We appreciate you sharing your present condition with the community and being so candid as well. It’s always good for us to hear what is working for others in the community. You must be feeling very gratified to look back and see how far you’ve come and how well you’re doing. Keep up the good work! Leon (site moderator)

  • jeanjeannie
    10 months ago

    I am 74 and have severe COPD and have suffered debilitating fatigue recently. It feels as if all my energy has drained from my body and I’m empty.
    I have had numerous blood tests all of which have come back as normal so I must accept that there is nothing else causing the problem.
    Occasionally I feel quite well and do some cooking or go out on my scooter but those periods are few and far between and I then take 2 or 3 days to recover.
    I have also suffered depression most of my life so it’s a double whammy but …..
    I still manage to get some enjoyment out of life and it is the little things which give me pleasure.
    So, one day at a time is my mantra, I do what I want when I want. I wake very early but rarely get up before 11 but I am active on my iPad doing various things including artwork or I watch TV.
    I have had a blessed life and whatever is left I will try and make it as good as it can be.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    10 months ago

    Hi jeanjeannie and thanks for your post and for sharing your own experiences and current situation here. We have an entire community who understands how you feel and knows what you’re going through. You are never alone here. It’s good to see you’re keeping a positive outlook and a good attitude. That goes a long, long way towards managing this condition. We look forward to your continued participation here. Wishing you the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • ShelleyP
    10 months ago

    Thank you for this article. I have been struggling with fatigue for weeks (maybe months) and it’s nice to know that I’m not alone. I will try to eat better and get up and move, even when I don’t feel like it!

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    10 months ago

    Hi ShelleyP and thanks for the kind words. You are never alone in our online community. Many of our members have expressed challenges dealing with fatigue. We have a wealth of material on this very subject here on our website. If you’d like, we can point you to some more articles related to COPD and fatigue. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

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