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Your child’s disease and treatments might make them feel more tired than usual. This feeling of low energy is called fatigue. Fatigue affects many patients. It does not mean that the illness is getting worse or that the treatment is not working.
Fatigue can make it hard for your child to do normal activities. This can interfere with daily life and with their physical and emotional health. For some patients, fatigue continues even after treatment ends. Read about fatigue and cancer.
Fatigue can be caused by many things. Your child might feel tired for any of these reasons:
Fatigue affects everyone differently. It can last for a long time or for a short time. And it can happen during or after treatment. If your child is fatigued, they might:
Feeling tired is common during an illness or hospital stay, but there are things you can do to help your child cope and have as much energy as possible.
Watch for the signs of fatigue in your child. Keep a journal of their daily activities and how much energy they have at certain times of the day. You will start to notice a pattern in your child’s fatigue. You might also notice that some activities give your child energy.
Encourage healthy eating. Make sure your child eats healthy foods that give them energy. It may also help to eat smaller meals or snacks more often through the day to help your child maintain energy. It is normal for your child’s appetite to change during treatment. But it is important for them to eat healthy food to give their body energy. A dietitian can help you plan healthy meals and snacks to help with fatigue.
Prioritize activities. Help your child decide which activities are most important and do those first. If your child is too young to decide, you choose. Do not try to do too much in one day. Have realistic expectations and plans to help your child and your family do the things that are important for you.
Plan ahead. Notice the days and times when your child feels most tired and when they feel best. This helps you plan. Your child can do important activities during these times with most energy. Plan your day ahead of time so you do not have to rush. Or have someone else help with errands and other activities.
Take breaks. Have your child stop activities and rest before they get too tired. You can have your child sit down during activities, if possible. For example, your child can sit while brushing teeth or hair, making a snack, or getting dressed. Use a wheelchair for long trips or activities, if needed.
Change the focus. Encourage your child to think about things other than fatigue and illness. Choose activities that gradually build up strength and do not quickly drain energy. This might include spending time with family or friends, listening to music, reading, and playing.
Sleeping better can help your child feel less tired. Tips for better sleep include:
Certain activities can help your child get ready for bed and improve rest.
If your child seems to sleep enough but is still tired, your care team might suggest a sleep study to see if there are other reasons your child may not be getting good rest.
You might think that physical activity would make your child more tired, but this is not true. Scientists found that people going through disease treatment who were tired but did regular moderate exercise felt better than people in treatment who did not do these things.
Patients who exercise:
If your child is in treatment, a good goal is about 20 minutes of physical activity each day, or more if your child feels well enough. At first, your child might not be able to exercise very long. So, a few minutes a day is OK. With time, your child will get stronger and exercise longer. Before starting physical activity, talk to your care team about what types of activity or how much exercise your child can do.
If your child is finished with active treatment, they should try to be active about 60 minutes a day. They can do the exercises such as walking, riding a bike, swimming, and strength training.
Patients may want to seek help from care providers to figure out what is causing tiredness.
A care provider may ask questions about:
A medical history, physical exam, and lab tests are used to find out about underlying causes. Details about a patient’s sleep, physical activity, and eating habits can also be helpful in looking at fatigue.
Assessment of cancer-related fatigue may include:
Always talk to your care team if you have questions or concerns about symptoms and side effects, including fatigue.
Reviewed: May 2023