Fatigue is a very common symptom of Parkinson's, but it is often overlooked or possibly dismissed. Fatigue can be an early symptom of PD, but it can also happen at any point of your diagnosis. In fact, it does not matter how progressed the disease is. Your other symptoms can be mild, but fatigue can really impact you. The extreme exhaustion that comes with fatigue can prevent people from engaging in social activities, lead to reduced hours at work, or even retire. Understanding fatigue as a symptom of PD and finding ways to cope with it are so important.
Fatigue can impact someone both physically and mentally. The difference is in the name. Physical fatigue is feeling of being very physically tired or weary. Mental fatigue is having a difficult time concentrating, or feeling mentally drained. Fatigue can even result in memory disturbances. Fatigue can vary from person and to person and they can change from day to day, or even hour to hour. One day you may feel very physically able to perform your daily activities, but mentally you are drained. Other days you may have a hard time physically getting our of bed but feel mentally sharp. This can be especially challenging for those who are still working.
The cause of fatigue in PD
Like most things in Parkinson's research, there is not a definite answer on what causes it. However, we do know that there are many things that can influence fatigue.
Sleep - Poor sleep, both quality and quantity, can lead to fatigue or worsen fatigue. Sometimes, your motor symptoms can lead to poor sleep because of waking up at night or having difficulty turning in bed. Other times, you can have poor sleep due to your habits, or hygiene. If you want to learn more about sleep hygiene, read our blog post here. If you feel like your sleep is worse due to motor symptoms, talk with your doctor.
Physical fitness - Being in poor physical condition can worsen fatigue for some. If your body does not have the endurance and stamina needed for your daily activities, this can lead to or enhance your fatigue. For some people, appropriately dosed exercise can improve fatigue in the long term. Want to improve your physical fitness but not sure where to start? Take a look at our exercise classes available in the Capital District or visit a Physical Therapist.
Depression - Depression can lead to or worsen your fatigue. Talk with your doctor if you are experiencing depression to find out what treatments are best for you. Stress and anxiety can also enhance fatigue.
Apathy - Sometimes apathy can be disguised as fatigue. Apathy is the loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed. Loved ones may confuse this with being lazy or unmotivated. Apathy and fatigue are not the same thing and should be examined by your neurologist to rule out.
Medication - Your PD treatment may be a contributing factor towards your fatigue. Talk with your neurologist about your medication side effects.
Unrelated causes - Fatigue can be caused from other health changes throughout your body. Examples can be thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies, anaemia and diabetes. It is important to talk with your doctor about your symptoms to make sure there isn't something else going on.
How to cope with fatigue in PD
Some people find benefit from medications, such as modafnil and methylphenidate, although studies looking at the effectiveness are inconclusive. To know if medications are right for you, make sure you discuss your fatigue with your neurologist in the same vigor you report the severity of your other symptoms.
Eat a healthy diet. Our energy comes from food, so it matters what we are putting in our bodies. Eating highly processed foods can impact our energy levels, with and without PD. For those who experience constipation, constipation can lead to feelings of lethargy. Eating a well balanced meal can improve constipation symptoms. Want to learn more? Read our blog about constipation.
Stay hydrated. Dehydration can be a big contributor to fatigue. Try to aim to drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day.
Exercise! This may sound counterintuitive, but the more you exercise, the more energy you have afterwards and the more endurance you will have long term. Some people with fatigue find it best to exercise in a group class to have others motivate them and keep them accountable.
Keep a regular sleep schedule. Try not to nap longer than 30 minutes, or later than 3pm.
Pace yourself if you have a busy day or if you are feeling more fatigued. Try to schedule your day around times that you feel most energetic.
Spend time with family and friends and do something fun! Social connection is such a crucial part in fighting off fatigue.
Try keeping a diary to note when your fatigue is at its highest and lowest to help determine what might influence it.
Fatigue can be really impactful to those with Parkinson's. If you have symptoms of mental or physical fatigue, talk with your neurologist so you can find out what are the next best steps for you.