A woman sitting in bed with a cup of coffee rubbing her eyes.
Due to COPD symptoms, such as wheezing and shortness of breath, fatigue is common in COPD patients.

Does COPD Cause Fatigue?

COPD leads to damage to the air sacs in the lungs. The damage causes symptoms, including shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing. Due to these symptoms, you may wonder: Does COPD cause fatigue? Yes, it also often causes fatigue. According to research in the journal BMJ Open, fatigue is the second most common symptom for people with COPD.

Fatigue from COPD varies in severity and tends to become worse over time. Fatigue can greatly decrease quality of life and adversely impact a person’s mood. As someone progresses through the stages of COPD, their fatigue often becomes more severe. But by taking certain steps, it is possible to decrease fatigue due to COPD.

Why Does COPD Cause Fatigue?

COPD often leads to fatigue due to a combination of factors. Although fatigue may come and go in severity, many people with COPD have some level of fatigue at most times. Fatigue from COPD may occur due to:

Low Oxygen Levels

People who have COPD have damage to their air sacs in their lungs. The damage interferes with getting in oxygen. When oxygen levels in the body are impaired, it can lead to symptoms, such as fatigue.

Increased Work of Breathing

COPD commonly causes shortness of breath. Breathlessness may occur easily with exercise. But it can also develop even with mild exertion. For instance, in people who have severe COPD, walking to the bathroom can leave them winded. When someone is breathless, they work harder to get air into their lungs. They may breathe faster and tense their muscles as they struggle to get air in. Everyday tasks may take more energy and become difficult to do when you are short of breath. The increased work of breathing eventually leads to fatigue.

The Buildup of Carbon Dioxide

In addition to having trouble getting oxygen, people with COPD may also have difficulty getting carbon dioxide out of their lungs. Air may get trapped in the lungs due to the damage to their air sacs. Because their ability to get air out is inadequate, carbon dioxide may build in the body. Increased levels of carbon dioxide lead to fatigue.


Although not everyone with COPD becomes depressed, having a chronic illness can lead to feelings of sadness. If sadness persists, it can develop into depression. Fatigue is a common symptom of depression.

What Are the Symptoms of Fatigue From COPD?

Symptoms of fatigue from COPD may come and go or they may be constant:

  • Weakness
  • Decreased motivation
  • Exhaustion
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Sleepiness
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How Can COPD-Related Fatigue Be Treated?

COPD and fatigue often go hand in hand. But you do not have to let fatigue prevent you from doing the things you need to or want to do. There are several ways to treat COPD fatigue.

Practice Breathing Exercises

Learning breathing techniques can help improve the efficiency of breathing, reduce breathlessness and improve oxygen levels. Pursed lip breathing is one of the most effective ways to combat shortness of breath and save energy.

Get Regular Exercise

If you have fatigue, exercise may be the last thing on your mind. But regular exercise can reduce fatigue. Exercise strengthens the heart and muscles throughout the body, which helps the body work more efficiently. Regular exercise also improves sleep and can increase energy.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Some people with COPD have trouble eating due to breathlessness but eating too much can also increase gas and bloating, which may make breathing worse. If you have COPD, you need to find the right balance, which means eating enough to have energy without overeating.

Additionally, it is essential to eat a healthy diet that helps you maintain your energy level. Be sure to eat enough protein, whole grains and fresh foods high in vitamins and minerals. It is also vital to drink enough water. Not only does dehydration lead to fatigue, but drinking enough fluid can help thin mucus, which makes it easier to cough up.

Pace Activities

If you have COPD, it is also important to break activities into small steps. Take breaks between steps as needed to conserve energy. Pacing yourself can help reduce overall fatigue and leave you with the energy to do the things that are important to you.

Preventing COPD Fatigue

There are also a few things you can do to try to prevent fatigue due to COPD:

  • Slow the progression of COPD. COPD is a progressive disease. As the condition becomes worse, symptoms, such as fatigue, will likely increase. Slowing the progression of the condition may help prevent fatigue. To slow progression, stop smoking and follow your COPD treatment plan.
  • Decrease other fatigue contributors. COPD may only be one piece of the puzzle. Other factors may also contribute to fatigue. For example, certain other medical conditions and medications may increase sleepiness. Work with your doctor to treat other medical problems that may add to fatigue. But do not stop taking medications until you talk with your doctor.
  • Get enough sleep. One of the most important ways to prevent fatigue related to COPD is to get enough sleep. If you have problems sleeping or have an underlying sleep disorder, talk with your doctor about ways to improve sleep.