How to cope with fatigue when you have a brain tumour

How to cope with fatigue when you have a brain tumour

Wed 11 March

To mark World Sleep Day, we’re looking at the relationship between brain tumours and fatigue.

The Brain Tumour Charity reports that fatigue impacts three in five people living with a brain tumour. In fact, it’s one of the most common side-effects of the condition. To mark World Sleep Day, we’re looking at the relationship between brain tumours and fatigue, as well as providing you with advice on how to combat it.

What is fatigue?


Fatigue is defined as constant feeling of tiredness. This is often unexplained and persistent, meaning it can lead to exhaustion.


Sometimes it can be misunderstood that people who are fatigued don’t get enough quality sleep, but this isn’t the case. Often people with fatigue find they can sleep, but they wake feeling just as tired as if they hadn’t had any.

What are the side-effects of feeling fatigued?


The main side-effect of fatigue is physical and mental tiredness that doesn’t leave, no matter how much rest or sleep you get.


According to the NHS, this tiredness is often completely overwhelming and is unlike any kind of tiredness they’ve ever felt before.


Other common symptoms can include:

  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Sore throat
  • Problems concentrating or thinking straight
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Feeling dizzy or sick
  • Heart palpitations
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest
  • Feeling anxious
  • Over-sleeping or difficulty sleeping


Why does fatigue affect people with a brain tumour?

There are quite a few reasons for this. Firstly, the growth of a tumour itself requires a lot of energy, which can make the brain much more tired. Likewise, the effort your body needs to divert energy from everyday tasks to fight the tumour is significant.


Fatigue is a known side-effect of cancer treatment, so if your brain tumour is malignant the chemotherapy and radiotherapy you’ve been having may be making the fatigue worse. Cancer medication such as steroids can also add to the fatigue.


Then there’s the cognitive effects such as difficulty speaking, reading, writing and concentrating. Trying to battle with these day-by-day can be exhausting.


Lastly, it can be incredibly difficult mentally to come to terms with a brain tumour diagnosis, leading to stress, anxiety and depression which are all very overwhelming and exhausting.

How does fatigue affect people woth a brain tumour?

There is no one answer to this. You might have a brain tumour and never suffer from fatigue. On the other hand, you may find your fatigue to be so severe that you can only do very basic tasks.


Regardless of the grade of your tumour, fatigue can hit at any time and vary in intensity day-to-day.

Tips to combat fatigue


If you’re suffering from fatigue, there is hope. Although you may think it is part and parcel of your diagnosis, there are things you can do to combat fatigue. Here are some ideas:


Keep a record


Record your feelings so you can start to identify patterns in when you feel more fatigued, and what could be causing it. Diet and exercise can impact fatigue so writing everything down will help you identify, for example, that a morning walk and eggs for breakfast give you a burst of energy for two hours between 12-2. Once you’ve found that, you know to organise that coffee with a friend in those hours when you’re most energetic.


Manage your nutrition


Pay a bit more attention to what you’re eating. Brain tumour treatment can affect your appetite and taste buds so make sure you’re eating the right number of calories to give you as much energy as possible.


Pace yourself


Taking plenty of breaks throughout the day and splitting your tasks down into smaller chunks can make it easier to get things done. Making sure your days are filled with a mix of high, medium and low energy activities should help you pace yourself to get a better balance of your energy levels.


Ask for help


Never be too scared to ask for help. You may think there’s nothing that can be done about your tiredness, but we assure you there is. The BTRS support services can help you in a number of ways, whether it’s by loosening some of the emotional burden with counselling or pointing you down the right NHS pathway to treat the specific cause. If you’re living with a brain tumour in Yorkshire, find out more about how we can help.


Stay physically and mentally active


Being physically active can help. Even if that’s five-minutes of stretches a day or a gentle walk to the shops. Gentle exercise can give people with high or low grade tumours more energy, less pain, better sleep and a bigger appetite. Likewise, mind activities such as jigsaws and colouring books can help keep your brain working.


Try and improve your quality of sleep


This is probably the most important way to try and combat fatigue. Firstly, find the sleep pattern that works best for you. Whether that be only sleeping at night, or taking a nap at 2pm, managing your energy levels in a way that works for you is so important. All the usual tips for getting better sleep apply here, avoid caffeine, avoid using devices 1-2 hours before sleep, read a relaxing book in bed, drink plenty of water and make sure your room is a comfortable temperature. 


We hope you found our tips on how to combat fatigue when you are living with a brain tumour. If you have any more to share, please head over to our Facebook page.
Please remember that if you need support you can contact us on 0113 3400111 or by email to

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