Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October 2021

Everyone feels tired from time to time throughout the day. However, for some people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), tiredness can be overwhelming and make it difficult to accomplish daily tasks. This is a symptom of COPD called fatigue.1,2

What causes fatigue for people with COPD?

Fatigue in people with COPD can be caused by several things. One of the main causes of fatigue is the body not receiving enough oxygen. Lung damage from COPD can reduce the uptake of oxygen, which lowers the amount of oxygen in the blood. This can cause feelings of tiredness and low energy3,4
People with COPD may also feel tired because they feel out of breath. Since it takes more effort to breathe when you have COPD, your body can spend a lot of its energy on it. This causes fatigue because your body does not have enough energy left over for other things.3,4
Another reason people with COPD may feel tired during the day is because they are not sleeping well at night. More than half of people with COPD say that they have problems with sleeping. This can be caused by:3,4

  • Waking during the night from coughing or breathlessness
  • Certain types of drugs for COPD
  • Feeling anxious or depressed
  • The body not absorbing enough oxygen during the night

Other causes of fatigue

It is possible for other things to cause feelings of tiredness besides COPD. For some people with COPD, fatigue can be a sign of an infection like the flu or pneumonia. Other causes of fatigue not directly related to COPD include:3

  • Sleep apnea
  • Low vitamin D (may be more common in people with COPD)
  • Thyroid problems (may be more common in people with COPD)

If you think your fatigue could be caused by something other than COPD, talk with your doctor about your symptoms and concerns.

Can fatigue be treated?

There is no medicine or treatment that can directly address feelings of fatigue. However, there are steps you can take to feel more energetic.

If you are feeling tired, it can be hard to motivate yourself to exercise. But regular exercise leads to increased energy over time. People with COPD may want to follow an exercise routine such as walking or biking for 30 minutes a day. This can increase energy levels.3

Eating well can also increase energy levels. Try to eat lots of high-fiber foods, as well as healthy fats and proteins. Avoiding simple carbs and sugars can also keep your energy more constant throughout the day.3

You may need more help handling your fatigue besides at-home solutions like eating well and exercising. Oxygen therapy, or the use of supplemental oxygen, provides extra oxygen for your body. This can help you have more energy and make physical tasks easier. Your doctor may or may not suggest oxygen therapy depending on your symptoms. There are risks to this therapy if not used correctly, including problems with breathing.1,3

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program to help people with COPD. Through the program, you will learn ways to handle COPD with methods like breathing exercises, diet, and nutrition. People who complete pulmonary rehabilitation tend to have more success managing COPD symptoms like fatigue.1,3

People with COPD should contact their doctor if they have new or increased symptoms of tiredness or tiredness that does not go away. It can be helpful to keep track of the details about the symptoms, such as:3

  • When did the tiredness start?
  • How long does it last?
  • Have you felt this level of tiredness before?
  • Have you started any new medicines, routines, or activities?