How to Manage Fatigue When Living with a Serious Illness

When living with a serious illness, it’s important to know that feeling easily and constantly tired—or fatigued—is a common symptom. In fact, many people experience fatigue, no matter if they are living with cancer, COPD, kidney disease, or another serious illness. Fatigue may make you or your loved one feel forgetful and unable to stay focused or have energy to do everyday things. This may include activities like seeing friends, pursuing hobbies, or even pursuing treatment for the serious illness.  

While fatigue is not always easy to recognize, learning about its symptoms is a good place to start. Since fatigue can impact quality of life, it is important to get it under control so that you or your loved one can start to feel better. If you aren’t sure where to start or need support along the way, palliative care can help. 

What is Palliative Care? 

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness. This type of care focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a specially trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.

How Can Palliative Care Help?

If you notice that you or your loved one are constantly tired, unable to focus, withdrawn, or just not doing things you normally enjoy, let your doctor know. They will ask you questions and try to figure out what may be causing it.  This could mean anything from low blood count, pain, medications, anxiety and/or depression, and more. There are different ways to treat fatigue, depending on the cause. Either way, your doctor can refer you to palliative care, to help manage the fatigue and get back to doing what is most important to you. 

During your first visit with the palliative care team, let your doctor, nurse, or social worker know that you’ve been feeling fatigued. They will continue to evaluate your fatigue by asking about sleep disturbances, pain, nutrition, emotional distress, and more. And they will work with you to come up with ways to start feeling better.

This may mean following a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine, choosing relaxing activities before bed, and more. But it all depends on the root cause, and you will figure this out together. 

If you are interested in learning more about fatigue, watch this recent webinar by Dr. Andrew Esch, who is a palliative care doctor. In this short video, he explains that fatigue is very common for people living with serious illness, how palliative care can help, and much more.

About GetPalliativeCare.Org

GetPalliativeCare.Org is an online resource for patients and families that focuses solely on providing information on palliative care from the point of diagnosis. At you can take a short quiz to see whether you or a loved one could benefit from palliative care. The site is provided by the Center to Advance Palliative Care.