Fatigue (extreme tiredness)

Feeling tired all the time is common in people who have cancer

Fatigue may mean you may feel very tired or exhausted most or all of the time. Fatigue can have a big impact on your everyday life, making you feel both physically and mentally drained, and leaving you with little energy or motivation.

A combination of different factors could cause fatigue:

  • The effect of cancer and cancer treatments on your body
  • Problems with eating and drinking
  • Low levels of red blood cells (anaemia)
  • Other symptoms and side-effects such as pain or breathlessness
  • Side-effects of some medication
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Anxiety and depression

If your fatigue is a side-effect of being anaemic (having low levels of red blood cells), your doctor will prescribe you with medication that will help. If you are concerned, speak to your doctor.

Living with fatigue can be difficult, but there are ways to help manage and improve it.

What can help?

Being as active as possible

Being active may be the last thing you feel like doing if you’re tired, but there’s lots of research to show that doing some light to moderate physical activity every day can help improve fatigue and make you feel more energised.

Keeping active can also increase your appetite and generally boost your wellbeing.

Eating and drinking well

  • Eating well and keeping a healthy weight can help you to keep up your strength and improve your energy levels.
  • If possible, choose foods that release energy over a longer period of time, such as potatoes with skin on and wholegrain foods (wholemeal bread, brown rice and wholewheat pasta, and unsweetened, wholegrain breakfast cereals). Sugary foods may give you a quick boost but won’t give you energy for very long.
  • Being dehydrated can make you feel tired, so try to drink plenty of liquid such as water, milk, sugar-free squash, diluted juice or herbal tea. Aim to drink at least 1.2 litres (2.1 pints) a day – this is at least six to eight glasses.
  • If you’ve also lost weight, you could follow our advice to help increase your calorie (energy) and protein intake.
  • If you have mouth problems, our tips and advice can make food more palatable.

Mealtimes

It’s quite common to feel too tired to prepare or cook any meals. Here are some ideas for dealing with this:

  • Friends and family are often keen to help – maybe they could prepare some meals for you to freeze or do a weekly shop for you?
  • Supermarkets stock lots of healthy convenience and ready-made meals and snacks that don’t need much preparation that you could try.
  • If you’re too tired to go out, why not try online shopping?
  • There are companies that can deliver good quality frozen or cooked meals or meal preparation kits to your door – ask a dietitian if they can recommend one in your area.