COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) causes a person to have poor airflow leading to shortness of breath and severe fatigue.    It includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.  Typically, labored breathing or shortness of breath with exertion worsens over time so that activities that were once easy to perform, such as dressing, become difficult to do. 

Does fatigue cause shortness of breath with activity or does shortness of breath cause fatigue?  Shortness of breath and fatigue are closely intertwined.   Fatigue, shortness of breath, and the fear of shortness of breath can all lead to a person with COPD restricting activities.  This can lead to deconditioning which results in decreased energy stores and fatigue when completing activities of daily living.  When completing activities takes more effort, increased shortness of breath can occur and in turn, labored breathing uses more energy and increases fatigue.

It's a vicious circle which should be avoided by striving to be as active as possible including doing appropriate exercises as approved by your doctor.  Exercise will help your body use oxygen more effectively.  The goal of exercise is to tolerate more activity without increasing shortness of breath.   Ask your doctor what exercises are right for you and whether pulmonary rehabilitation could help you.

  • Aerobic activities increase your heart rate and help you have more energy
  • Walking may be the right exercise for you
  • Aerobic exercises can even be done sitting in a chair 
  • Muscle strengthening exercises may make it easier to lift and carry without becoming tired and breathless

If you have begun to significantly restrict your activities because of breathing problems, ask your doctor for a referral to Occupational Therapy.  OT will teach you specific breathing and pacing techniques to help you maximize what you can do with less effort.

The following tips can help anyone who has shortness of breath and/or fatigues quickly when doing activities of daily living.

COPD - Tiredness

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COPD - Shortness of Breath

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