Fatigue is one of the most common and difficult side effects of cancer and cancer treatments. What many people perceive as tiredness is actually more severe than it may seem.
Shaneli Fernando, MD, a radiation oncologist with Toledo Radiation Oncology at the ProMedica Monroe Cancer Center, defines cancer-related fatigue as tiredness beyond the typical day-to-day wear and tear that is relieved by a normal night’s rest.
She explains that cancer patients can experience fatigue for many different reasons. “Cancer treatment itself can be quite fatiguing,” Dr. Fernando says, “Medications, previous medical problems and emotional stresses can all contribute as well.”
Of course, not all cancer patients experience fatigue; however, patients with a history of medical problems such as anemia, thyroid issues, and high blood are more at risk for severe fatigue because prior medical issues could contribute to treatment-related fatigue.
Fatigue vs. Tiredness
Tiredness and fatigue are often confused with one another, so how can you tell the difference? Signs of fatigue are fairly universal among patients and are easily noticeable. The most common indication of fatigue is when patients are unable to do their normal day-to-day activities without feeling drained.
“Symptoms can range from patients feeling tired and sleepy throughout the day to patients, to physical symptoms, such as achiness or disrupted sleep at night,” Dr. Fernando says.
She continues, “Many people are used to functioning at a certain energy level. Feeling fatigued and not being able to perform activities as easily as before treatment can be very distressing to patients.”
Fatigue can be very frustrating and it is often underestimated how much it can affect a patient’s daily life. Dr. Fernando says that while there is no “quick fix” for fatigue, underlying medical issues such as anemia need to be directly addressed. There are also many ways to cope and manage fatigue.
- Listen to your body. It is important for patients to stay active at a level that is tolerable to each individual, but to rest if your body starts to feel achy or tired.
- Practice good nutrition. Dr. Fernando recommends patients provide their bodies with adequate calories as well as plenty of fluids.
- Rely on a solid support system. This may include friends and family, and/ or attend a cancer support group. Fatigue can affect you emotionally as well as physically. A strong support system can help ease emotional pain.
Although difficult, the good news is fatigue normally goes away in the weeks to months following the end of cancer treatment.
Do you have a friend or loved one with cancer? Read The Low Down on How to Support Cancer Survivors.
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