Find the Source of COPD Fatigue to Re-Energize Your Life
Many people shrug off fatigue a mild discomfort, but chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients know how serious it can become. One bout of exhaustion is an annoyance, but when you can hardly keep your eyes open or your body upright, your whole life will suffer in a big way.
Fatigue is a lack of physical energy or mental concentration, and it’s the second biggest complaint among those living with COPD, next to breathlessness. Your level of fatigue will also influence your risk of hospitalization, which makes it particularly important to manage your energy loss.
Many things can bring on COPD fatigue, but there are many approaches to overcome it, too. Work with your doctor to find your weak spots, and then make some energizing adjustments to your lifestyle right away.
Where Does COPD Fatigue Come From?
COPD may manifest in the lungs and airways, but the consequences will spread throughout the body. Many of these “secondary” problems will drain your energy, leaving you tired and weary from morning to night.
- Depression: one of the most common (and most complicated) COPD side effects, depression, brings sedentary days and helpless feelings, which leave you feeling physically and emotionally exhausted.
- Cachexia: COPD can interfere with your natural metabolism, causing your muscle mass to deteriorate and your appetite to whither. This process is known as cachexia, and fatigue is one of its defining features.
- Hypoxemia: Taking in less oxygen with each breath can lead to hypoxemia, a low level of oxygen in the bloodstream. Low blood oxygen can leave you weak, short of breath, confused and tired, since the organs aren’t receiving the nourishment they need to function at full force.
- Malnutrition: Many people with COPD have a difficult time eating enough, whether due to a loss of appetite or coughing fits that make it difficult to take in much food at once. Without the right nutrients, you’ll have little energy.
- Respiratory infections: Infections in the lungs can wreak havoc on your system, and commonly lead to dangerous COPD exacerbations. A healthy respiratory system can usually kick the invasive virus within a week or so, but when your lungs are already compromised, all your body’s energy will be funneled to fighting off the infection.
How Fatigue Affects People With COPD
Russell discusses what COPD fatigue feels like and how it affects those living with COPD.
Imagine driving a motor vehicle with the handbrake engaged.
For many COPD patients, this is what every day feels like, a constant battle to make any headway. Our lungs are damaged and our inability to function properly places a brake on all our other organs. As patients, we have to fight against this every day, and it’s this fight which can cause severe fatigue.
On good days, we can go about our daily business, whatever this may be. On bad days, we are confined to our beds or couches. When we cannot get out day after day it can affect our mindset and eventually depression sets in. It is a vicious cycle we have to contend with, and there is no one strategy which will fix it.
If unmanaged, COPD fatigue can quickly exacerbate our symptoms and reduce the quality of life.
The inability to be mobile not only affects our mindset, but it also affects our muscles, our exercise tolerance which in turn makes us more breathless. Quickly things can get out of control and the longer we do nothing about it, the harder it becomes to our way out of the hole.
Before you know it, you’ve become irritable and feel isolated that you can’t be bothered with visitors because you’re so tired, it all just feels too hard. Sometimes visitors don’t understand why you feel like you do and start to avoid coming over.
If you’ve reached this stage, life can be pretty miserable, and it’s hard not to feel sorry for yourself.
Tips on How to Minimize COPD Fatigue
COPD will never let you rest as it is a disease which is always with you. What you can do is minimize the effect it has on you.
Fatigue is a symptom, and like any symptom, it needs to be managed. Managing your fatigue should be incorporated into your COPD action plan, but how you do this can be tricky.
Start with basic principles, find the cause and come up with a solution. For example, if hot, humid conditions make you fatigued, you need to minimize your exposure to the heat by finding ways to cool yourself down and by increasing your intake of water.
Do the daily chores around your home feel insurmountable? Is your home chaotic? You’d be surprised what a little restructuring around the house can do. Enlist the help of family and friends to make your home COPD friendly.
Simple ideas which make daily tasks easier will reduce your fatigue. Keep items you use every day in waist-high cupboards, so you aren’t having to reach up or bend over. Many people living with COPD become more breathless when they have to reach up or bend over, and by limiting the reaching or bending over for something can help reduce fatigue.
Many small measures like this add up to what I call energy savings. So, energy saving changes can help lessen COPD fatigue. Think smart, work on plans to save energy, so you don’t fall into the fatigue trap.
It’s important to change up your waking routine to fight off COPD fatigue, starting with these techniques:
Moderate exercise can have a huge impact on your amount and quality of sleep. The reasons for this improvement aren’t completely clear, but it might have to do with the drop in body temperature after an exercise session.
That fall in temperature, combined with the stress relief that comes with activity, can promote sleep.
Eat for Relaxation
The calories in food are meant to energize your body, but certain foods can also help to calm your mind and release tension in your tissues. With calming minerals like potassium, or relaxing chemicals like tryptophan, these foods are some of the best for relaxing the body and preparing for sleep: