How is fatigue assessed?

Before you're treated for fatigue your doctor, nurse or other healthcare professional will need to ask some questions. These are about how you feel, your day to day life and the treatment you're having.

There are no medical tests to measure fatigue. But a good way to describe fatigue is on a scale of 1 to 10. Where 1 means you don’t feel tired at all and 10 means the worst tiredness you can imagine. Some may use a questionnaire to help them work out how it’s affecting you.

They usually ask you a lot of questions about the history of your illness and fatigue. This may seem like too much to deal with if you're feeling tired and weak. You probably just want them to sort it out as quickly as possible. But it is very important that your fatigue is properly assessed.

This helps your team to make the right decisions about treating you. Your family and friends may be able to help if you are feeling so tired that you can't answer questions.

Some of the questions your doctor might ask you include:

  • when did it start?
  • how long has it lasted?
  • is it something that comes and goes?
  • has it got worse over time?
  • does anything make it feel better or worse? For example, exercise, eating or pain.
  • does it affect your daily living activities such as washing, cooking or walking?
  • do you have any problems sleeping?
  • are you sleeping in the day and for how long?
  • how long roughly do you sleep at night?
  • is it interrupted sleep, meaning do you get up or wake up during the night ?
  • do you have any other major problems in your life such as relationship, money or work worries?
  • do you have any other symptoms with your fatigue such as feeling or being sick, breathlessness or pain?
  • is the fatigue made worse or better when you have treatment such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy?
  • do you have any other medical conditions or symptoms?
  • did you feel fatigued before your cancer was diagnosed?
  • how long since you have had your bowels open?
  • are you having any problems with passing urine?
  • what medicines are you currently taking and when do you take them?

Being examined

Once you have gone through these questions your doctor, nurse or healthcare professional might examine you. They might:

  • feel your tummy (abdomen)
  • feel for swollen glands (lymph nodes) under your arms, in your groin and around your neck
  • take your blood pressure and pulse
  • listen to your chest

Your doctor or nurse might suggest a chest x-ray and blood tests to get more information about your health. For example, if your fatigue is due to having low red blood cell count (anaemia).

Don't be afraid to ask any questions you have. 

Last reviewed: 
02 Jan 2020
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