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Patient education: When your cancer treatment makes you tired (The Basics)

Patient education: When your cancer treatment makes you tired (The Basics)

Why does my cancer treatment make me tired? — Feeling tired is a common side effect of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation. Also, people who have surgery usually feel tired afterward.

Other factors can make people feel tired. People might feel tired, weak, or have no energy because they:

Are sad, worried, or stressed

Aren't eating enough

Have trouble sleeping or do not get enough sleep

Have pain

Have a condition called anemia, in which their body has too few red blood cells. When a person has too few red blood cells, their body doesn't get all the oxygen it needs.

Will I need tests? — Maybe. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and daily activities. They might also do blood tests to check for conditions that could cause you to feel tired but can be treated. Examples of these conditions include anemia or low hormone levels in men.

Is there anything I can do on my own so that I don't feel so tired? — Yes. There are many things you can do so that you don't feel so tired. You can:

Exercise – Exercise can increase your energy and help improve your appetite. Try to exercise every day, even if it's just a short walk. Check with your doctor first to make sure it's safe for you to exercise.

Do yoga – Doing gentle yoga with breathing exercises helps many people feel less tired and sleep better at night.

Lower your stress – To lower the stress in your life, you can:

Not try to do too much. Instead, ask your family and friends to help you get your chores done.

Take time off from work or work fewer hours, if possible

Do relaxation exercises or meditate

Talk with a mental health expert or go to a support group

Save your energy – To avoid using too much energy, you can change your daily routines and how you go about your activities. For example, try to plan ahead, rest often, and use devices to help you reach things.

For general and specific tips on ways to save your energy, see the tables (table 1 and table 2).

Improve your sleep habits – Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night. If you have trouble sleeping, you can do things to improve your sleep habits. For example, you can:

Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine in the late afternoon or evening

Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day

Limit your naps during the day, and don't nap more than 30 minutes at a time. For more tips on ways to improve your sleep habits, see the table (table 3).

Make sure to eat and drink enough fluids each day. You can also ask your doctor or nurse about taking a daily vitamin.

When should I call my doctor or nurse? — Call your doctor or nurse if you:

Feel dizzy or very weak or have trouble breathing

Are so tired that you can't do your daily activities, including bathing, getting dressed, and eating

Are there treatments that might help my symptoms? — Yes. Different types of treatments might help, depending on your symptoms and other conditions. These can include:

Treatments for anemia, if you have anemia – Doctors can treat certain kinds of anemia with medicines to help your body make more red blood cells. They can also treat anemia with a procedure called a "blood transfusion." During a blood transfusion, a person gets blood that has been donated by someone else.

Medicines called "stimulants" – These medicines can increase a person's energy. Doctors usually prescribe these medicines only to people who are severely tired and weak.

Medicines called "steroids" – These medicines can increase energy in patients who are severely tired and weak. They are usually used only for a short time because of side effects.

An herb called American Ginseng – Taking this herb daily can improve energy levels in people who are tired during cancer treatment. But check with your doctor before starting it. It can interact with a number of other medicines.

Medicines to treat depression – In addition to feeling very sad, people with depression often feel tired and don't sleep well at night. If you are depressed, your doctor might prescribe medicines called "antidepressants."

For some men, low levels of the male hormone testosterone can cause tiredness. Some men can be treated with testosterone replacement therapy. Your doctor can talk to you about whether this might be an option for you.

More on this topic

Patient education: Managing pain when you have cancer (The Basics)
Patient education: Managing loss of appetite and weight loss with cancer (The Basics)
Patient education: What are clinical trials? (The Basics)
Patient education: Radiation therapy (The Basics)
Patient education: Brachytherapy (The Basics)
Patient education: Nausea and vomiting with cancer treatment (The Basics)
Patient education: Low testosterone in men (The Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jan 01, 2023.
This generalized information is a limited summary of diagnosis, treatment, and/or medication information. It is not meant to be comprehensive and should be used as a tool to help the user understand and/or assess potential diagnostic and treatment options. It does NOT include all information about conditions, treatments, medications, side effects, or risks that may apply to a specific patient. It is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for the medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of a health care provider based on the health care provider's examination and assessment of a patient's specific and unique circumstances. Patients must speak with a health care provider for complete information about their health, medical questions, and treatment options, including any risks or benefits regarding use of medications. This information does not endorse any treatments or medications as safe, effective, or approved for treating a specific patient. UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates disclaim any warranty or liability relating to this information or the use thereof. The use of this information is governed by the Terms of Use, available at ©2023 UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates and/or licensors. All rights reserved.
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