Fatigue -- the subjective perception of generalized tiredness, exhaustion or lack of energy -- is different than ordinary tiredness, and is a symptom that is often poorly understood in COPD. And while dyspnea remains the primary debilitating symptom associated with COPD, fatigue is nearly three times greater in patients suffering from lung disease than in healthy adults, so as a symptom, it warrants further discussion.
Why Does Fatigue Occur in COPD?
Many patients report that fatigue ranks nearly as high as dyspnea as a contributing symptom to the decrease in their quality of life, yet it is infrequently reported or discussed in clinical research.
So why do patients with COPD experience fatigue? The increased level of fatigue found in patients with moderate to severe COPD is said to be associated with:
- an increase in the severity of pulmonary impairment
- a reduction in exercise tolerance
- an impairment of quality of life
Additional studies suggest that the sensation of fatigue associated with COPD may be related to reduced time spent outdoors, the frequency of yearly COPD exacerbations and the following alterations in functioning:
- a decrease in weight and muscle mass
- decreased strength and endurance
- decreased cognition
- repeated respiratory infections
10 Ways to Manage Fatigue
Given the high levels of fatigue associated with COPD, it is important to incorporate the following fatigue-fighting measures into your daily life:
1. Exercise Regularly
People who exercise regularly report lower levels of fatigue and an improvement in quality of life than those who don't.
2. Eat Nutritious Foods
A healthy diet packed with energy-producing foods is best for patients with COPD and other chronic illnesses.
3. Eat Breakfast Every Morning
About.com's Guide to Arthritis tells us that eating your breakfast every morning can serve as an initial energy booster and keep you from feeling the energy-draining effects of fatigue throughout the day.
4. Get Plenty of Rest
The National Sleep Foundation says that most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. In fact, lack of sleep is strongly associated with increased levels of fatigue and a myriad of other health conditions, including obesity and diabetes.
5. Reduce Stress
The importance of stress relief in chronic disease management cannot be overemphasized. Reducing stress can decrease fatigue and anxiety and improve your overall quality of life.
6. Drink Plenty of Fluids
Dehydration can cause headache, fatigue, dry mouth, dizziness, rapid heart rate and a host of other symptoms. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, it is important to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.
7. Consider Vitamins and Minerals
You may want to ask your doctor if vitamin or mineral supplements are appropriate for you, particularly if your diet is lacking in vital nutrients. However, in general, supplemental vitamins have not been shown to improve symptoms or lung function in COPD.
8. Laugh Your Head Off
Laughter has been found to have many health benefits, including reducing stress and increasing pain tolerance. Why not try a little laughter to help reduce the fatigue in your daily life?
9. Prevent COPD Exacerbation
Because an increase in fatigue may be associated with COPD exacerbation, preventing an exacerbation is important in COPD management.
10. Spend More Time Outdoors
There is nothing like nature and sunlight to cure what is ailing you. In fact, About.com's Chronic Fatigue Guide tells us that research suggests sunlight increases cognitive function and blood flow to the brain.
Fatigue, like dyspnea, affects all areas of a COPD patient's life, including activities of daily living, social interaction and sleep patterns. Effective management of fatigue requires increased awareness and a collaborative effort between patients and their health care providers. For more information about fatigue, visit the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Guide Site.
Baghai-Ravary R, Quint JK, Goldring JJ, Hurst JR, Donaldson GC, Wedzicha JA.Respir Med. Determinants and impact of fatigue in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 2009 Feb;103(2):216-23. Epub 2008 Nov 22.
Eileen Breslin, RN, DNSc; Cess van der Schans, PhD; Stephanie Breukink, BS; Paula Meek, RN, PhD; Kent Mercer, MS; William Volz, RN, RRT; and Samuel Louie, MD. Perception of Fatigue and Quality of Life in Patients With COPD. Chest 1998;114;958-964. DOI 10.1378/chest.114.4.958.