6 Ways to Fight Fatigue Caused by COPD

Fatigue can be reduced with simple lifestyle fixes

African American man sleeping in bed

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How can you cope with the all-too-common symptom of fatigue with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)? Let's take a look at what causes fatigue in people with COPD and then share some tips on how to increase your energy level.

Understanding Fatigue

Fatigue—the subjective perception of generalized tiredness, exhaustion or lack of energy—is different than ordinary tiredness. It isn't the kind of tiredness which improves with a good night of sleep or even a good cup of coffee. Unfortunately, it is also a symptom that is poorly understood in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Fatigue can have a very significant effect on the quality of life for people living with COPD. In fact, while cough, dyspnea (difficulty breathing), and sputum production remain the primary symptoms of COPD, fatigue is almost as important when it comes to the negative impact of the disease.

Fatigue affects up to three times as many people with COPD as it does people in the general population. For all of these reasons, it's important to discuss not only what may be causing your fatigue, but what you can do yourself today to better cope with this symptom.

Causes of Fatigue

Why do people with COPD experience fatigue? The answer isn't simple, and it's likely that there are many factors that work together to contribute to tiredness. According to a 2017 review in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine, increasing levels of fatigue in people with COPD is associated with a progressive loss of lung function, a reduction in the ability to exercise, and high rates of untreated depression.

Others suggest that fatigue 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
  • Hypoxemia, or a decreased supply of oxygen to the tissues
  • Decreased strength and endurance
  • Decreased cognition, including the loss of memory and problem-solving
  • Repeated respiratory infections

7 Ways to Manage Fatigue

Given the high levels of fatigue associated with COPD, it's fortunate that there are a number of fatigue-fighting measures you can add to your life every day.

1. Exercise Regularly

People who exercise regularly report lower levels of fatigue and an improvement in the quality of life than those who are more sedentary. Not only can exercise improve your life, but it is associated with a longer life expectancy for people living with COPD.

When it comes to exercise with COPD, a combination of endurance exercises (cardiovascular endurance) and flexibility exercises are important. When you consider your options, it's important to start slow. We know from all of the broken new year's resolutions worldwide that most people do not follow through on plans to entirely change their lifestyle. Realizing this, think of activities which you most enjoy.

An example may be gardening. It's true that gardening can be an excellent form of exercise, yet many people "forget" they are exercising as they get excited about what they are creating. On the other hand, others find gardening to be a meaningless chore, and another activity would be best.

An activity many people enjoy is walking, and there are many benefits to walking if you have COPD. Think of ways to make it fun. Have you considered Geocaching? Geocaching is one way to create walking goals without realizing you are walking for your health. Do you have a friend or a family member you could walk with? Having someone to whom you are accountable may increase your chances of sticking with an activity.

2. Eat Nutritious Foods

You may remember the posters saying "you are what you eat" from childhood. There is actually a lot of truth in that adage, and a healthy diet packed with energy-producing foods can make a huge difference for people living with COPD and other chronic conditions.

Sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to eating the right diet for COPD. The important thing to know is that you don't have to change your entire way of eating overnight. It's often taking "baby steps" instead, which leads to a positive and lasting change in eating habits. As with exercise, it helps to make good eating fun. Try to add a few fun and healthy foods to your diet each week. Some people make a goal of eating at least one cruciferous vegetable every day.

Since COPD is an independent risk factor for the development of lung cancer, you may also want to add some superfoods to your diet that are thought to reduce lung cancer risk and help your body handle the physical stresses of living with COPD.

3. Eat Breakfast Every Morning

Eating breakfast each morning is important, just like we've always been told. Yet, with COPD, it can pack two punches. First of all, it can give you that initial energy boost often needed if you are coping with fatigue related to COPD.

A good breakfast, however, is a gift to your body that keeps on giving. A healthy breakfast, especially one which includes fruit and protein, can 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 seven and nine hours of sleep each night. In fact, a lack of sleep is strongly associated with increased levels of fatigue and a myriad of other health concerns, including obesity and diabetes.

The first step in ensuring good sleep is to practice good sleep habits. Ideally, you should go to sleep and get up at roughly the same time each day. Get rid of any outside light in your bedroom and reserve your bedroom for sex and sleep. It is best to eat dinner at least several hours before retiring. Also, keep in mind that both caffeine and alcohol can contribute to sleep problems.

There are plenty of ways that COPD can interfere with your rest specifically. Talk to your doctor about any of these concerns.

5. Reduce Stress Levels

Stress is spoken of so often that you may have become immune to hearing the words "get rid of the stress in your life." Though these words may be worn out, the message remains true. Whether you relieve stress with exercise, meditation, or yoga, the benefits to your health can be significant. Multiple studies have found that gentle exercise not only helps relieve stress but can reduce the symptoms of chronic fatigue.

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, even with minor changes. If you're not sure how to get started, begin by checking out these ways to reduce stress in your life. After trying out a few of these methods, you may be interested in learning more about stress management, how it works, the benefits, and how to incorporate these measures into your day to day life.

6. Drink Plenty of Fluids

Staying hydrated not only helps nearly anyone feel better but is extra important when you are living with COPD. Some medications, as well as things such as mouth breathing, can increase your fluid needs when living with this disease. Though hydration is so important, most people don't recognize how important it is until they become significantly dehydrated.

Dehydration can cause a 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 eight-ounce glasses of water per day. Dehydration can be especially harmful to people with COPD, causing the thickening of mucus in the lungs and a progressive loss of lung capacity.

A Word From Verywell

Fatigue, like dyspnea, affects all areas of life for a person living with COPD, including activities of daily living, social interaction, and sleep patterns.

The effective management of fatigue requires increased awareness and a collaborative effort between people and their healthcare providers. It's important to talk to your doctor about your fatigue and make any adjustments needed to achieve an improved quality of life.

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Article Sources

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