I am feeling fatigued

As patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs), there’s one thing many of us have in common: we may feel fatigued.  But there are solutions available that can give us more energy.
Research shows that fatigue is one of the biggest problems we face as people with MPNs.  In 2005, the Mayo Clinic in the US conducted a survey of over 1000 people with all types of MPNs.  Over 80% of those surveyed reported feeling tired, regardless of age or treatment regime.
Professor of Medicine Ruben Mesa, M.D. who conducted this study for the Mayo Clinic, explains that even young patients who don’t otherwise exhibit many symptoms of their disorder feel more fatigue than people who don’t have an MPN.  Mysteriously, the “MPN fatigue effect” doesn’t necessarily correlate with blood counts or age, which shows that there is a lot researchers still don’t know about the ways MPNs affect our bodies.

Until researchers find better treatments for MPNs, the best approach for coping with fatigue is to take good care of yourself. You can build a healthy lifestyle with three key steps:

  • Improve fitness
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Reduce stress

Tips for fighting fatigue

Keep moving
It may sound counter-intuitive, even strange, but the best thing you can do to reduce fatigue is to get more exercise. When starting any new fitness regime, check with your haematologist and GP or primary care doctor first.

Young and feeling well? Plan to exercise every day for at least 30 minutes.

Experiencing more fatigue?  Start very gently and build up slowly and gradually from there. Gentle walking is an excellent way to start.  You can track your steps and chart improvement using a pedometer.

Feeling very unwell?  You may only be able to take a few steps inside the house at first.  Be sure to check with your doctor and develop a programme that is suitable for you. Even very small improvements will be to your benefit in reducing fatigue.  Ask your GP or haematologist for advice on gentle exercise that will help you maintain your muscle tone and circulation.  It can be difficult to regain muscle tone once lost, so concentrate on moving at least a tiny bit each day.

Need more info?  You can read more about staying fit for every age and level of wellness in our ways to feel better section.

Eat well
Changing your diet won’t cure your MPN but eating a healthy, nutritious diet can help you to feel stronger.
  • Talk to your GP or primary care doctor for advice
  • Visit the NHS Healthy Eating or the Mayo Clinic websites for sensible guidelines
  • Eat nutritious food including eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein, healthy carbohydrates such as whole grains and healthy fats such as olive oil and nuts
  • Limit consumption of highly processed foods, animal fats and empty calories such as sugary drinks

A healthy diet can increase your sense of wellbeing and give you more energy.  If you feel unwell and are losing weight, talk to your doctor about the right nutritional strategy for you, which may be different.

Get enough sleep
Check that you are getting enough sleep, at least eight hours per day. Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day can help ensure you’re getting enough rest.

Stay hydrated
Drink lots of water.  Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol and caffeine from tea, coffee or colas.

Reduce stress
We’re all affected by stress, and having an MPN is one more thing to worry about. Research at major hospitals around the world is showing that stress reduction can play an important role in fighting illness.  Complementary therapies including yoga, meditation and massage have been proven to reduce stress and increase response to medication.  If you are feeling fatigued, reducing stress [ways to feel better reducing stress] can offer relief.

Keep a log
It’s often helpful to keep a daily log to identify when you are feeling the most fatigued. You can share the results of your log with your doctor to look for problem areas and find solutions. Track your sleep times, quality of sleep, exercise, diet and activities as well as your medications and side effects. After a week or two you may begin to see a pattern in when you feel the most fatigued.

Talk with your doctor
If you feel fatigued, share this problem with your haematologist and GP. It can help for you to be very clear about exactly what you are experiencing and this will assist your doctor in problem solving together with you. If you are experiencing side effects from medication, give your doctor details about the problems you are encountering, as there may be solutions available. Don’t try to tough it out.

Take care of your overall health
Your haematologist cares for your MPN, but talk with your GP or primary care doctor about your overall health. It’s worthwhile to have an overall health assessment every year to identify and prevent additional health issues. If you have an MPN it’s particularly important to take care of your cardiovascular health.

Be selective
Focus on the activities that are most important to you, and don’t try to do everything. Get help with daily activities if possible. Plan time to rest. Let your friends and family know that you may need to reserve your energy.

Sexuality
You make it through work, and through your daily chores, but when just surviving takes a toll, patients can find they don’t have the energy for a fulfilling sex life. This can affect your relationship with your partner and your sense of self. Intimacy is an important part of life, and you can still enjoy it. The Macmillan website also offers detailed information on sexuality and chronic illness.

For more info on reducing fatigue, please explore our Ways to feel better section.