Managing breathlessness and fatigue

By Denise Penney, Hospice Nurse Specialist at Wigan and Leigh Hospice


There has been a lot to read in the news lately about fatigue as one of the symptoms caused by Long Covid.

In my role as a Community Specialist Nurse for patients in the Borough who are at the end of life I meet many people who experience both breathlessness and fatigue.

Whether related to illness or not fatigue and breathlessness can affect many of us.

The good news is whether or not breathlessness and fatigue are caused by long-term illness which is irreversible or are caused by other factors there are ways of managing them.


It is important to remember that for anyone fatigue can be reversible. It can be the consequence of an illness or treatment, such as chemotherapy, but could also be down to things like anaemia, poor nutrition or pain – all of which can be tackled.

Whether your fatigue is disease-related or not try pacing yourself during an activity. For example, when getting up in the morning rather than getting up, getting showered, dressed and going downstairs try to break it up into smaller more manageable activities. Get up and shower then rest before you get dressed. Small changes like these can really make a difference.

It’s hard to accept that you can’t do what you used to do. You are used to getting up and jumping out of bed and doing everything that you want to do when you want to do it. It can be a huge blow when you realise you have to start taking things slowly or ask for help.

Help is out there though. If you think you have anaemia you should contact your GP and there is plenty of information about nutrition on the NHS England website.

Mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy and acupuncture can also prove helpful in dealing with fatigue.


In terms of breathlessness this is common in patients with advanced illnesses. Still, whether or not you have an advanced illness, you may experience breathlessness and the techniques for managing it remain the same.

Breathlessness can be caused by physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual factors. Therefore it is possible to manage it once the cause has been identified. Once disease has been ruled out try:

  •  speaking more slowly
  • relaxation and distraction techniques
  • using a handhand fan in front of your face
  • opening windows
  • breathing exercises
  • meditation

These things should all be tried before you experience breathlessness so that you know what works for you when it does happen.

If you are suffering from anxiety or depression psychological support may be needed as when you are upset breathing gets worse and you may finding yourself feeling breathless.