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Fatigue Happens


Some individuals with lymphedema report fatigue as a major problem. In the study titled, “Self-Reported Fatigue Among Women With Post-Breast Cancer Lymphedema” which was conducted among women with breast cancer, the findings indicated that fatigue was related to the lymphedema.

The report stated this conclusion, Although this was a small study, the preliminary findings suggest that fatigue is widespread problem for some women with lymphedema."

There are many potential causes of this fatigue. One may be cancer related fatigue, other causes include the increased size and weight of the affected extremity.


Roberta described her fatigue as, “Not long after my mastectomy I developed lymphedema. Before this happened I had good energy and stamina levels. Since these illnesses things have changed. Now, four years later, I have two energy levels:

  • "full-speed ahead" (previously normal) and
  • "screeching halt" (suddenly no energy).

I checked with my oncologist and my primary care physician, both say that I’m healthy (except of course for the lymphedema).

In fact, they really implied that, ‘It was all in my head.

Since then I've learned that I'm not the only one with lymphedema who has a problem with fatigue. Unfortunately, despite having an excellent lymphedema therapist, I have not found a solution to this problem”

Biking is fun and good exercise!


You may find the following suggestions to be helpful in combating fatigue:

  • See your physician. You need to be certain that nothing else is causing the fatigue. This is very important! Just because you have lymphedema doesn’t mean that there isn’t another cause of your fatigue.
    Your physician may not be able to offer much help; however, you do not need to accept “It is all in your head” as a valid answer.
  • Exercise appropriately and regularly. Here is a pleasant surprise: Ongoing research has shown that getting out and exercising helps reduce fatigue! Exercise is important in maintaining your general health, controlling your lymphedema and your weight, plus increasing your sense of well-being.
  • Keep your energy up. You may find that eating several small meals a day helps to keep your energy up.
  • Eat properly. You have three goals here. These are to
    (1) Achieve, and maintain, maximum health;
    (2) Keep your weight within the proper range for your age  and height;
    (3) Keep your energy level up. You may find that eating several small meals a day helps to keep your energy up.
  • Get enough sleep. Anyone who does not get enough sleep can suffer from fatigue. If fatigue is a problem for you, make it a priority to routinely getting enough sleep.
  • Work to control your lymphedema. The more effectively you can control your lymphedema, the less fatigue you are likely to experience particularly when this fatigue is due to carrying around the excess weight of a heavy limb.
  • Notice what works for you. Sometimes a short nap is the best solution. Other times a brisk walk, or similar exercise, will perk you up again. Find ways to take care of yourself — and use them!
  • Plan for this fatigue. When fatigue is a common problem it usually follows a pattern. Become aware of what your pattern is and work around it. For example, if you tend to “wipe-out” in mid-afternoon, try to schedule your most important appointments in the morning. As a motivator to try to fight through the fatigue, you might also plan activities that you particularly enjoy for these time periods.
  • Do NOT resort to stimulants. Drinking lots of coffee or caffiene containing beverages, or taking stimulants, are not constructive solutions to this problem.


Here are some ideas:

  • Plan your day. Be active at the time of day when you feel most alert and energetic.
  • Save your energy by changing how you do things. For example, sit on a stool while you cook or wash dishes.
  • Take short naps, or rest breaks, between activities.
  • Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Do what you enjoy -- but do less of it. Focus on old or new interests that don't tire you out. For example, try reading something brief instead of tackling "War and Peace" (which is noted for its length).
  • Let others help you. They might cook a meal, run errands, or do the laundry. If no one offers, ask for what you need. Friends and family might be willing to help but may not know what to do.
  • Choose how to spend your energy. Try to let go of things that don't matter as much now.
  • Consider joining a support group. Talking about your fatigue with others who have the same problem might help you find new ways to cope. Starting a support group is a challenge that would benefit you and others who need help.


  • Self-management of fatigue among women with lymphedema by J. M. Armer and D Porock. Lymphology, 35 (Suppl), 208-213.
  • Lymphedema Quality of Life Issues by D.R. Revis, Jr. MD.
    in eMedicine, 
    March 2008.

© LymphNotes 2015. This information does not replace the advice of a qualified health care professional.

Got a question or comment? Post in the 'Living With Lymphedema' forum.
Category: Living With Lymphedema Updated: 2015-01-09


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