Cancer: Home Treatment for Fatigue

Things you can do

Home treatment may be all that is needed to relieve fatigue caused by cancer or the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. If your doctor has given you instructions or medicines to treat fatigue, be sure to follow them.

  • Get extra rest while you are receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Let your symptoms be your guide. You may be able to stick to your usual routine and just get some extra sleep. If you are receiving aggressive treatment or are at the end of your treatment schedule, you may need to spend more time in bed. Fatigue is often worse at the end of treatment or just after treatment is completed.
  • Return to your usual activities slowly to avoid prolonging the fatigue.
  • Listen to your body. Alternate rest with exercise. Gradually increasing your exercise may help decrease your fatigue. Walking is a good way to help reduce fatigue.
  • Limit medicines that might contribute to fatigue. Tranquilizers and cold and allergy medicines often cause fatigue.
  • Improve your diet. A more nutritious diet may increase your energy level. Reduce your use of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, which contribute to fatigue. Do not skip meals, especially breakfast.
  • Cut back on watching television. Spend that time with friends, try new activities, or travel to break the fatigue cycle. Check with your doctor or contact your local American Cancer Society about joining a group for cancer survivors.
  • Get a good night's sleep. This may be the first step toward controlling fatigue.
    • Eliminate all sound and light disturbances.
    • Avoid eating just before you go to bed.
    • Use your bed only for sleeping. Avoid reading or watching TV in bed.
    • Get regular exercise during the day (but not within 3 hours of bedtime). This seems to improve sleep.

If generalized weakness and fatigue are not related to chemotherapy or radiation therapy, you may need to call your doctor.

Prevent fatigue

Mild fatigue can often be prevented by changes in lifestyle habits:

  • Regular exercise is your best defense against fatigue. If you feel too tired to exercise vigorously, try a short walk.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Do not skip meals, especially breakfast.
  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep.
  • Deal with emotional problems instead of ignoring or denying them.
  • Take steps to control your stress and workload.
  • Take time for yourself to do the things that you enjoy, such as listening to music, spending time with friends, or having a massage.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

If one or more of the following symptoms occur during home treatment, contact your doctor:

  • New symptoms develop along with the weakness and fatigue.
  • Depression or anxiety becomes a problem.
  • Symptoms of weakness or fatigue increase despite home treatment.
  • Symptoms do not improve after 2 weeks of home treatment.
  • Symptoms become more severe or more frequent.

Credits

Author Bets Davis, MFA
Editor Maria Essig
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Arvydas D. Vanagunas, MD - Gastroenterology
Last Updated October 1, 2008

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