If you have COPD, you're probably no stranger to feeling drained, tired, and lethargic. Fatigue is a common problem for COPD patients, and a serious one at that. Fatigue is a common culprit behind exercise avoidance and sedentary living, which causes many patients to experience a quicker physical decline.
Fatigue is often used as a synonym for feeling tired or exhausted, but it's actually different in several ways. First, fatigue isn't necessarily related to activity or quality of sleep; you can feel fatigued even if you haven't done anything tiring and even if you get plenty of rest at night.
Fatigue is a kind of whole-body exhaustion that takes “feeling tired” to a new level. It hurts your ability to concentrate, drains your energy, and often worsens anxiety. Fatigue makes you feel too tired to do things that you usually enjoy, and can make simple things like dressing, reading, or leaving the house feel like monumentally difficult tasks. Often, fatigue is a sign that your body is having trouble keeping up with its energy needs.
Fatigue can make everything feel like a chore, like you have to drag yourself to every activity and social engagement. Some patients feel so fatigued every day that they stop exercising, isolate themselves in their homes, and give up on healthy lifestyle habits and treatment goals that are necessary for their well-being.
That's what makes fatigue such a major concern for COPD patients and the doctors that treat them. When left untreated and unmanaged, fatigue discourages many people with COPD from doing the very activities that would help preserve their health and quality of life.
In this article we're going to help you beat COPD-related fatigue by giving you thirteen useful tips for reducing fatigue and maximizing the amount of energy you have to invest in your life every day. But first, let's look at what causes fatigue and how it affects the lives of people with COPD.
Causes of COPD-Related Fatigue
COPD is a chronic, continually-progressing disease, and simply managing the symptoms alone can get exhausting. But there are several specific ways in which the disease causes patients to suffer from fatigue.
COPD-related problems like decreased lung function, lack of exercise, and lack of oxygen all result in fatigue. Unhealthy habits can also make it worse; a poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, and lack of sleep all contribute to COPD-related fatigue.
Let's take a closer look at some of the main causes of fatigue for COPD patients.
Lack of Exercise
COPD symptoms can make exercise very difficult, which can start you on a negative cycle of exercise avoidance, fatigue, and physical decline. The less you exercise, the more breathless and fatigued you will feel, which then makes it more and more difficult to stay active.
This is partially due to loss in physical strength, but fatigue is also directly related to the lung function decline that happens when you don't get enough exercise. The more your lung function is reduced, the more easily you become winded, and the more likely you are to have low-blood oxygen levels and fatigue as a result.
Having blood oxygen levels that are too low is known as hypoxemia, and it's a condition that causes your body to feel very fatigued. This discourages many people with COPD from being as active as they should be, even though exercise is essential for keeping your lungs and body strong.
Hypoxemia is often treated with supplemental oxygen, which delivers extra oxygen to your lungs so that your blood oxygen saturation doesn't drop too low. If you experience frequent fatigue, your doctor can evaluate your blood oxygen to see if supplemental oxygen is right for you.
Lack of Sufficient Nutrients
COPD causes uncomfortable symptoms that make it difficult for many patients to eat properly. Patients with inflated lungs due to emphysema, in particular, have difficulty breathing when they eat.
Because of this, many patients avoid meals and don't get enough calories and nutrients. This is especially common in the later stages of COPD.
People with COPD also tend to need more calories because of their declining lung function. Damaged lungs aren't able to absorb as much oxygen with every breath, and have to work harder to keep your blood oxygen levels up. This results in your lungs and the muscles that support them working overtime when you breathe.
Studies show that the breathing muscles of people with COPD use up to ten times the amount of energy compared to people with healthy lungs. This means that most COPD patients burn extra calories just walking, living, and breathing.
Because of this, many people with COPD have to eat a higher calorie diet to supply their lungs and breathing muscles with the nutrients they need. This helps them meet their daily nutrient requirements, have more energy, and experience less COPD-related fatigue.
How to Beat COPD Fatigue and Have More Energy Every Day
Depending on the severity of your COPD and how active you are, you might find even simple, everyday tasks difficult to do. If you're not careful, fatigue can quickly lead to a sedentary lifestyle and an even quicker decline in your physical ability.
Maintaining your physical mobility is key for maintaining a good quality of life, which is why treating COPD-related fatigue is so important. If you can reduce your fatigue, you will have more energy and strength to live a healthy, active life.
There are a variety of treatments for COPD-related fatigue and daily habits you can practice to boost the amount of energy you have every day. Continue reading for a variety of different ideas, including dietary tips, lifestyle habits, and exercises that can help you overcome COPD-related fatigue.
|Photo by Sgt. Andy Bellami|
As we've mentioned before, lack of exercise is a major contributing factor to COPD-related fatigue. When you avoid physical activity, it causes your muscles to atrophy, and even weakens the muscles you use to breathe. It also causes your lung function to decline, increasing COPD symptoms and making it harder for your lungs to supply enough oxygen to your body.
Luckily, there is a special type of class designed to help COPD patients who struggle with this exact problem. It's called pulmonary rehabilitation, and it uses a variety of hands-on methods to help you increase your strength, endurance, and quality of life.
Pulmonary rehabilitation classes are usually six to eight weeks long and often held as group lessons. Classes are generally run by a team of social workers, dietitians, and medical professionals that are knowledgeable about chronic respiratory diseases. Classes include exercise instruction, lessons on breathing exercises and medications, and opportunities to learn a variety of useful skills that will help you stay active and maintain your independence with COPD.
Here is a list of some of the benefits you can receive from taking a pulmonary rehabilitation class:
- Improved blood circulation
- Reduced breathlessness
- Deeper breathing
- Improved physical fitness and exercise endurance
- Improved mood and motivation
- The skills for proper COPD dieting
- Reduced chance of COPD exacerbations and hospitalizations
- Increased mobility and ability to do daily activities
- Knowledge about COPD medications and treatments
- Improved quality of life
People with COPD often feel like they don't have enough strength or energy to devote to exercise. However, if you start getting regular physical activity, you're more likely to have more energy, not less.
Regular physical activity is a cornerstone of COPD treatment because it keeps your body, lungs, and breathing muscles strong. It also helps battle anxiety, fatigue, and certain kinds of chronic pains.
When fatigue makes you feel the most like staying in bed, that's when you need to get up and be active the most. Staying sedentary will only make you feel worse; you have to get your body moving in order to overcome fatigue and find the energy you need to start your day.
If you're not used to exercising, you can start with light stretching, walking, and body weight exercises like leg lifts. Try taking up an active hobby, like biking, gardening, or swimming for extra physical activity.
Don't get sucked into a negative spiral of exercise avoidance, which inevitably leads to worsened symptoms, worsened fatigue, and accelerated physical decline. You should try to stay as active as you can for as long as you can, and always follow the exercise plan recommended by your doctor.
Don't Skip Breakfast
Breakfast is an essential part of a healthy morning routine and will give your body a nutritional boost of energy. If you have COPD, it's especially important to start off your day with a nutritious, balanced meal of fruit, protein, and whole grains.
Eating food in the morning gives your metabolism a jump-start and can help you feel awake, energized, and alert during the day. Don't skip breakfast or wait too long to eat, otherwise you're likely to feel tired sluggish, and fatigued.
Living with constant stress not only eats away at your mental resources, but it drains your physical resources as well. Stress is a huge contributor to fatigue, and it's a common problem for people with COPD.
If you experience an excessive amount of stress, changing your habits and environment can make it easier to cope. You can relieve stress through physical activity, meditation, spending more time with loved ones, eating a healthy diet, journaling, and more.
Try to identify stress-inducing people, situations, and environments in your life that you have control over. Then, work on finding solutions that allow you to avoid, minimize, or cope calmly with the things that cause stress in your life.
If you are dealing with chronic stress-induced fatigue, don't hesitate to talk to your doctor about mental health services and resources that are available in your city. Consider joining a support group, seeing a therapist, or asking a psychologist about medications that might help with your anxiety.
Eat Nutritious, High-Calorie Foods
Increasing the amount of calorie-dense foods you eat is a great way to make sure you meet your daily calorie requirements. High-calorie foods are particularly helpful if you're struggling to get enough calories because of breathlessness, appetite loss, or trouble keeping up with a high-calorie diet.
If this sounds like you, then you may need to add more healthy, calorie-dense fats and proteins to your diet. Foods like yogurt, cheese, and ice cream, for example, are great options that you could eat as part of a meal or as a stand-alone snack.
It can also help to prioritize the highest-calorie foods first. For example, if you often find yourself unable to finish your food at mealtimes, eat the most nutritious, calorie-dense items on your plate first. It can also help to avoid drinking liquids before or during meals, that way you're less likely to feel bloated and breathless, and you'll have as much room in your stomach as possible for food.
Here are some nutritious, high-calorie foods that can help you meet your daily calorie needs:
- Ice cream
- Nuts (e.g. almonds and walnuts)
- Nut butters (e.g. peanut butter or almond butter)
- Olive oil and other vegetable oils (e.g. sunflower oil)
- Protein shakes
As a final tip, eating small meals instead of large ones can make it easier to get enough calories without ever feeling too full. Try eating five or six smaller meals spread out throughout your day instead of the traditional, larger meals at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Care For Your Mental Health
Anxiety and depression are common mental health issues that come along with COPD. Coping with the diagnosis alone can be difficult, and the stress of managing the disease and losing physical independence can be difficult to weather on your own.
Fatigue is a common symptom associated with both depression and anxiety, and is sometimes a major factor in COPD-related fatigue. That's why neglecting your mental health is not an option; caring for yourself and your emotions is necessary for both your physical and mental wellbeing.
If you suffer from chronic anxiety, depression, or are having trouble coping with COPD on your own, don't hesitate to seek help. You can talk to your doctor, therapist, or any other licensed mental health professional to get advice, support, and prescription medication if you need it.
You can also find support in group therapy, both in person and online. Your doctor or another mental health professional could help you find mental health support groups and other services in your area, or you can join one of several COPD and lung disease support groups online.
Eat a Lung-Healthy Diet
Did you know that eating a diet high in carbs can actually strain your lungs? That's right, foods high in carbohydrates make your lungs have to work harder to breathe compared to foods high in healthy fats and proteins.
Because of this, you should try to limit the amount of carbohydrates in your diet and replace them with more lean proteins and healthy fats. This will help your lungs work more efficiently, which lowers your risk of experiencing low blood oxygen levels and hypoxemia-related fatigue.
In this way, eating fewer carbs can actually give you more energy and reduce fatigue caused by low oxygen levels in your blood. However, you still need a limited amount of carbs in your diet, and cutting them out completely would cause malnutrition and even worse fatigue.
When you do eat carbohydrate-rich foods, make sure they contain complex carbohydrates instead of simple carbs. Choose things like whole-grain breads and whole-wheat pastas, which contain complex carbs, instead of white breads and pastas, which are stuffed with simple carbs.
Simple carbohydrates cause your blood sugar to spike and fall rapidly, which gives you a limited burst of energy that quickly gives way to fatigue. Avoiding all simple carbs, including sugars, helps keep your blood sugar stable and prevents sudden blood sugar spikes that ultimately lead to fatigue.
Caffeine might give you energy and help stave off fatigue in the short run, but too much can make you feel worse. Many people get addicted to the caffeine “high,” but end up crashing and feeling even more tired, anxious, and fatigued later on.
Caffeine can also hurt your ability to sleep, which will sap your energy reserves even more if you suffer from chronic fatigue. It's best to avoid caffeine when possible, or to wean yourself off of it for good. At the very least, be careful to cut off your caffeine intake at least six to eight hours before bedtime.
Make Sure You Get Enough Vitamin D
Many people who suffer from fatigue are actually deficient in vitamin D, and correcting the deficiency can significantly improve fatigue. In fact, it's common for doctors to prescribe vitamin D supplements for people with fatigue-related disorders.
It just so happens that vitamin D deficiency is particularly common in COPD patients—up to 66 percent of patients are deficient—and it is a common factor contributing to COPD-related fatigue. Studies show that vitamin D deficiency also affects patients' bone strength and ability to breathe, and that supplemental vitamin D can help improve exercise endurance and strengthen the muscles used for breathing.
If you have COPD and suffer from chronic fatigue, you should talk to your doctor to get tested for vitamin D deficiency. Your doctor can determine if a deficiency is causing your symptoms and prescribe you a vitamin D supplement if needed to correct it.
But you don't always need a supplement; minor vitamin D deficiencies can often be corrected by increasing the amount of vitamin D in your diet and by spending more time in the sun. Just letting the sun touch your skin for ten to twenty minutes a day is enough to give you a significant boost of vitamin D.
Most people should get anywhere from 400-800 IU, or 10-20 micrograms, of vitamin D per day. People who don't spend much time in the sun will need to get most of their Vitamin D from their diet.
There are several kinds of foods that naturally contain vitamin D, and even more that are fortified with extra vitamin D. Here are some good dietary sources of vitamin D you should know:
- Egg yolks
- Beef liver
- Cod liver oil
- Cereals fortified with vitamin D
- Milk or yogurt fortified with vitamin D
- Orange juice fortified with vitamin D
If you have advanced COPD and are experiencing chronic fatigue, it might be because your blood oxygen is low. In the later stages of COPD, many patients have to use supplemental oxygen to prevent hypoxemia and hypoxemia-related fatigue.
Supplemental oxygen is not right for everyone and has to be prescribed by your doctor. Some people need supplemental oxygen all the time, while others only need it during exercise, exacerbations, or while they sleep.
If you are having trouble breathing and getting enough oxygen at night, you might need nighttime oxygen to help you sleep better and keep your blood oxygen levels up while you sleep. You might also want to get tested for sleep apnea, a breathing-related sleep disorder that causes your body to be starved of oxygen at night, leading to daytime sleepiness and fatigue.
Your doctor will be able to test your lung function, your oxygen saturation, and review other information to determine whether you need supplemental oxygen and whether or not your insurance will cover the cost. In some cases you can use other treatments, like medications, exercise, or breathing techniques, to improve your breathing efficiency, instead.
Take Hydration Seriously
Dehydration doesn't feel good; it can cause headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. And what's worse, if you have COPD, not getting enough water can make symptoms like coughing and breathlessness worse, too.
Water has a multitude of benefits; it helps thin out your mucus, supports healthy metabolism, and lubricates your lungs and airways to prevent irritation. Staying hydrated also keeps your energy levels up, improves your mood, and can even prevent illnesses and infections.
Many sources recommend drinking up to 6-8 cups of water a day, but it varies greatly from person to person and depends on your age, sex, weight, and more. The CDC recommends drinking water whenever you feel thirsty.
If you have trouble drinking enough water, you can try keeping an extra large water bottle with you throughout the day. Use it to motivate yourself, make hydrating as convenient as possible, and to help you keep track of how much you drink.
Often, people who are dehydrated feel sluggish without even knowing why. When you feel particularly lazy or fatigued, try drinking a large glass of cold water. Wait a few minutes and, chances are, you'll feel much better and have more energy afterward.
Conserve Your Energy for What Matters
While you should always try to be as active as possible in your daily life, in the later stages of COPD it is usually necessary to start cutting out some activities and active responsibilities. That might mean delegating certain tasks to friends and family members, hiring help, or using tools and techniques to reduce the amount of effort that daily tasks require.
As you lose mobility and have less strength and energy during the day, time and energy-saving tips can be life-savers. If you can find ways to simplify tasks and responsibilities like cooking, cleaning, and running errands, you'll have more energy for the activities you enjoy.
You can increase your energy to a certain extent through effective COPD treatment and using the methods on this list, but your mental and physical energy stores will still be limited. That's why you need to know when to rest and take it easy so you don't overexert yourself or have to give up on important activities.
It's important to save enough energy during the week to stretch, exercise, and socialize. If you conserve your energy wisely, you will be more likely to be able to find the strength to participate in other healthy activities like sports, hobbies, and social outings. These kinds of activities are necessary for maintaining a healthy body, healthy mind, and enjoying your life to the fullest.
Learn to Recognize Fatigue
When you wake up and feel sluggish, or when you feel breathless and tired, you might not realize that the reason is fatigue. If you don't understand fatigue and how it differs from other types of malaise, it's easy to mislabel it as as anxiety, illness, hunger, physical exhaustion, or lack of sleep.
The problem with this is that, if you attribute fatigue to something else, you could steer yourself toward solutions that won't be effective. For example, mistaking fatigue as physical exhaustion could lead you to avoid exercise, when in reality exercise could actually reduce your fatigue.
Fatigue is more than simply feeling a little tired or run down, but the symptoms are often generic and vague. This makes fatigue sometimes difficult to spot.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of fatigue:
- Chronic feelings of sleepiness and tiredness
- Loss of appetite
- Irritability and mood swings
- Sore, aching, or weakened muscles
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty concentrating
- Slowed movement and reflexes
- Lack of motivation
When you feel tired and lethargic, take time to think about your sleep quality, recent heavy exercise, or anything else that could be causing you to feel run down. If you can rule out other causes, there's a good chance the culprit is fatigue.
When you know that you're suffering from fatigue, you can start to address it by putting some of the techniques we've discussed in this article to use. You should also talk to your doctor if you experience chronic fatigue. Your doctor can evaluate your blood oxygen, medications, and suggest other treatments that can start you on the path to regaining your energy and joy in life.
Recognizing and treating fatigue is a key part of managing COPD. Luckily, there are many effective ways for people with the disease to manage their fatigue and find the energy they need to participate in life to the fullest.
Even though fatigue is still somewhat poorly understood, there are plenty of non-drug treatments that can help many people with COPD beat, or at least manage, their chronic fatigue. More solutions will likely emerge as doctors and researchers continue to develop a better understanding of the causes and effects of COPD-related fatigue.
By watching your diet, exercise, hydration, and taking care of your mental health, you'll be much better able to keep your body strong and combat the symptoms of fatigue. But if you are having trouble battling fatigue on your own, don't hesitate to ask your doctor for help and advice.
After studying these tips, take a few minutes to think about what techniques you can use in your life to reduce fatigue and give yourself more energy every day. That way, you can continue to exercise, maintain your independence, and have the strength to do the activities you most enjoy.