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Weakness and fatigue

Weakness and fatigue can be a problem if you’re living with a terminal illness and may affect you in different ways. If you’re feeling tired, there are some things you can try to help you conserve energy. Most of them involve making simple changes to your routine.

On this page:

What is fatigue?

Fatigue is a feeling of extreme tiredness, weakness or lack of energy. It isn’t related to how much activity you do and isn’t necessarily improved by rest or sleep. Fatigue can affect all aspects of life. People with severe fatigue describe it as paralysing.

Cancer and other long-term illnesses can cause fatigue and so can some of the treatments used for these conditions, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Most people with a terminal illness experience fatigue at some point, but little is known about how it develops or why symptoms persist.

The common signs of fatigue are:

  • problems sleeping
  • problems with your short-term memory
  • having a feeling of heavy limbs
  • feeling drained and as if you have no energy
  • difficulty completing simple tasks, such as washing and dressing
  • difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • a lack of motivation and not enjoying the things you usually do, like walking or reading

Managing fatigue

Saving your energy

It can help to plan activities for when you feel most energetic and to avoid doing things you don’t need to do. Taking short daytime naps and, where possible, sitting down to do tasks, like preparing meals or gardening, can also help conserve energy.

Rest and sleep are important, but try to keep a balance this with the amount of activity you do to avoid affecting your night time sleep. Doing the same sorts of things at the same time each day, and getting up and going to bed at the same time every day may help you to feel less tired and improve your sleep at night. Make sure your bed is as comfortable as possible.

Physical activity

It’s good to stay as active as possible without overdoing things. This might include physiotherapy or exercises you can do to build your strength. Some moderate exercise, like walking around the garden or to the end of the road, will improve your circulation and may help you to feel better.

Wellbeing therapies and diet

Complementary therapies, like massage or meditation, may help with feelings of stress and tension and help to increase energy levels.

Having a well-balanced diet, including plenty of fluids and energy-giving foods, may also help build energy levels. Eating little and often can help when normal-sized meals feel too much to cope with.

Make sure you let family and friends know how you feel, so they can support you.

External websites

Chest heart and stroke Scotland   - how stroke affects you: tiredness

Macmillan Cancer Support   - symptoms and side effects: fatigue

Multiple Sclerosis Society   - signs and symptoms: fatigue

This page is for general information only. It's not intended to replace any advice from health or social care professionals. We suggest that you consult with a qualified professional about your individual circumstances. Read more about how our information is created and how it's used.

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