It’s not uncommon for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to experience fatigue. COPD reduces airflow into your lungs, making breathing difficult and labored. It also reduces the oxygen supply your whole body receives, and without adequate oxygen, your body will feel tired and exhausted.
COPD is also progressive, so symptoms of the disease grow worse over time. This can take a big toll on your body, lifestyle, and health. But this doesn’t mean you have to feel tired every day. We’ll share some tips for managing your fatigue, from lifestyle changes to breathing exercises.
COPD symptoms are often detected only after the disease has progressed. Early stage COPD doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms. It can be hard to detect in its early stages because symptoms you might experience are often attributed to other conditions, such as general fatigue or being out of shape.
Symptoms of early COPD include:
- chronic cough
- excess mucus in your lungs
- fatigue, or lack of energy
- shortness of breath
- tightness in the chest
- unintended weight loss
A range of conditions and diseases can affect the health of your lungs. The most common cause of COPD, however, is cigarette smoking. If you smoke or have been a smoker in the past, you may have caused significant damage to your lungs. The longer you smoke, the more damage you cause. Chronic exposure to other lung irritants, including air pollution, chemical fumes, and dust, can also irritate your lungs and cause COPD.
COPD and fatigue
Without the proper exchange of gases, your body can’t get the oxygen it needs. Over time, you will develop low blood oxygen levels, a condition called hypoxemia. When your body is low on oxygen, you feel tired. Fatigue comes more quickly when your lungs can’t properly inhale and exhale air.
This sets up a vicious cycle. When you’re left feeling lethargic because of a lack of oxygen, you’re less likely to engage in physical activity. Because you avoid activity, you lose your stamina and grow tired more easily. Eventually, you may find you’re unable to perform even basic daily tasks without feeling winded and fatigued.
Living with COPD fatigue
COPD has no cure and you can’t reverse the damage it does to your lungs and airways. Once the disease has progressed, you must begin treatment to reduce the damage and slow further progression.
Fatigue will require you to be smart and judicious about how you use your energy. COPD symptoms can occasionally flare up, and there may be times when symptoms and complications are worse. During these episodes, or exacerbations, you will need to be treated by your doctor with medications to ease your symptoms. Also, you should take extra care to not push yourself too hard.
If you have COPD-related fatigue, try these five tips to help manage your symptoms:
1. Stop smoking
The leading cause of COPD is smoking. If you’re a smoker, it’s time to stop. Your doctor can help you find a smoking cessation plan that works for you and your lifestyle. Your plan to quit smoking might not be successful the first time, and may not even be successful the first five times. However, you can eventually find the tools and resources you need to quit smoking.
2. Get regular exercise
You can’t reverse the damage COPD has done to your lungs, but you might be able to slow its progression. It might seem counterintuitive, but exercising and physical activity can actually be good for your lungs.
Before you begin a workout plan, talk with your doctor. It’s wise to begin a workout under your doctor’s supervision. This will help you avoid overexertion. Doing too much too quickly may actually exacerbate your COPD symptoms.
3. Adopt a healthy lifestyle
COPD can also exist along with a range of other conditions and complications, including high blood pressure and heart problems. Eating well and getting plenty of exercise will help alleviate many of these conditions while also reducing fatigue.
4. Learn breathing exercises
If you’re diagnosed with COPD, your doctor may refer you to a specialist called a respiratory therapist. These healthcare providers are trained to teach you more efficient ways to breathe. First, explain your breathing and fatigue problems to them. Then ask them to teach you breathing exercises that can help you when you’re tired or short of breath.
5. Avoid other fatigue contributors
When you don’t get enough sleep at night, you will likely feel fatigued the next day. Your COPD will compound that problem. Get regular sleep every night and your body will have the energy it needs to work despite your COPD. If you still feel tired after getting eight hours of sleep each night, talk with your doctor. You may have obstructive sleep apnea, which is common among people with COPD. Sleep apnea can also make your COPD symptoms and fatigue worse.
COPD is a chronic condition: Once you have it, it won’t go away. But you don’t have to go through your days without energy. Put these everyday tips to use and eat well, get plenty of exercise, and stay healthy. If you smoke, quit smoking. Staying aware of your condition and making lifestyle changes can help you mange your symptoms and lead to a healthier life.