The Relationship Between COPD & Fatigue

Nick Rosen, MD
Medically reviewed by Nick Rosen, MDFebruary 1st, 2021
tired senior

We’ve all experienced the sluggish exhaustion of fatigue, where the energy to reach down and so much as tie a shoelace is enough to cause labored breathing. But have you ever given thought to what fatigue must feel like for someone with a chronic lung disease?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a condition that affects a person’s ability to breathe, causing exhaustion and greatly diminishing lung function over time. With this in mind, we’re exploring the relationship between COPD and fatigue—helping COPD patients understand why exhaustion is such a big part of their lives and discussing ways to cope with the fatigue.


The Link

Fatigue has been reported as the second most prevalent COPD symptom after dyspnea (shortness of breath) and is directly linked to COPD functional severity. While researchers are still exploring the connection, studies have found that it likely stems from how the progressive disease damages the lungs.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of lung diseases (including emphysema and chronic bronchitis) that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. This blockage and labored breathing make it difficult to get oxygen into the lungs and filter out carbon dioxide. The restriction of oxygen intake and the gradual buildup of carbon dioxide both attribute to feelings of tiredness and low energy. More notably, it can completely exhaust a person—causing extreme fatigue during normal activities and even during rest.

In many ways, the relationship between COPD and fatigue is a double-edged sword, where airway damage over time prevents lung function, and the effort to breathe more deeply drains energy reserves, adding to fatigue. As such, fatigue has become a clinical indicator of moderate to severe COPD—in some cases, even attributing to increased hospitalization risk.

Fatigue: A Prominent & Disabling Symptom of COPD

In a longitudinal study, researchers found that outpatients with moderate to severe COPD experienced intensified fatigue over time—especially as the disease progressed. The fatigue experienced was more than tiredness; it quickly evolved into a disabling symptom that affected all aspects of the mind and body, with feelings ranging from sleepiness to absolute exhaustion.

The takeaway: Fatigue interferes with an individual’s ability to function at a normal capacity, something that the progressive disease already does. Together, COPD and severe fatigue can significantly diminish a person’s quality of life.

Coping With COPD & Fatigue

Research suggests that close to 70% of people with COPD also experience extreme fatigue. When a person is that exhausted, simple tasks become challenging or altogether impossible. Fortunately, there are some ways that COPD patients can manage shortness of breath, which may help fatigue. This includes prescribed medications and oxygen therapy, as well as:

  • Improving your diet. Food directly impacts energy. By maintaining a balanced diet, you can help provide your body the fuel it needs to maintain a normal energy level.
  • Minimizing stressors. Stress can cause more frequent COPD exacerbations. Try incorporating stress management techniques into your daily routines to better control your reactions in stressful situations.
  • Practicing breathing exercises/therapies. According to the COPD Foundation, breathing is one of the best ways to reduce stress and manage symptoms. Some of the most popular techniques include belly breathing and pursed-lips breathing.
  • Establishing good sleeping habits. COPD and fatigue can interfere with your rest, so it’s important to stick to a sleeping routine. This can help you get a full night’s sleep, which can combat feelings of fatigue.

Seeking Care for COPD Exacerbations

With COVID-19 still impacting the nation, seeking acute care services for COPD exacerbations and extreme fatigue can feel daunting—particularly for those at risk of suffering serious coronavirus-related complications. What’s even more concerning is that fatigue is a shared symptom of COPD and COVID-19. If you find that you’re experiencing trouble breathing, persistent pain/pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, and/or bluish lips, you could be having a

COPD exacerbation or displaying COVID-19 symptoms. In any case, the team at DispatchHealth can help.


As an on-demand healthcare response team, we are helping those with COPD benefit from the prompt relief they need without leaving the comfort and safety of their homes. We treat COPD exacerbations and, in response to the pandemic, are additionally testing for COVID-19. From supporting positively tested patients to helping you better manage your COPD symptoms, we’ll provide the wholesome care you need in a familiar home environment.

To benefit from our service, request care by simply contacting us via phone, mobile app, or website.


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

Sources referenced in this article:

The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

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