Fatigue

Do you or someone close to you with Parkinson's disease (PD) have trouble getting through the day without feeling physically or mentally drained? You are not alone.1

Fatigue is a feeling of deep tiredness that does not improve with rest. Many people with PD say that fatigue is one of their most significant daily struggles. In fact, about half of all people with PD report fatigue, and 1 in 3 say fatigue is their most disabling symptom.1,2

How does it show up in PD?

Fatigue is more than being tired. However, fatigue is a complex symptom that can be difficult to define.2

Fatigue is a physical, emotional, and mental state of being extremely tired or exhausted. While most people have experienced fatigue at some point in their lives, those with PD can have fatigue that greatly impacts their quality of life.2

With physical fatigue, your body is weary and exhausted. Mental fatigue can make it hard to concentrate and finish even the simplest tasks.2

Why does PD lead to fatigue?

PD damages certain areas throughout the brain. The nerve cells (neurons) in the heavily damaged area make dopamine, which is a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter). Dopamine sends signals to parts of the brain that help make the muscles and nerves work together for smooth movement.3

Doctors have found that low levels of dopamine in PD lead to fatigue. However, many different things can lead to fatigue. When talking to your doctor, they will first work to find out the cause of the problem. It is often PD itself. However, other things besides your disease could be causing your symptoms. Treatment for fatigue will depend on the underlying cause.3,4

Treatment

There are many different therapies available to help people with PD live with their symptoms. These therapies include drugs, surgery, and alternative medicine. However, few studies have shown treatments effective in PD-related fatigue alone.1,2

After you and your doctor have found what the cause of your fatigue is, there are some ways you can combat it.

Get moving

Exercise has many health benefits, but a big one is fighting fatigue. This might seem impossible if you are weighed down with fatigue. However, start small. Some people with PD find that beginning their day with a brisk walk can energize them. Movement can be challenging with PD. Talk to your doctor about the best way to get and stay active.4

Look at your medicines

Parkinson’s drugs increase dopamine in the brain. But their levels can vary greatly, and your doses might need adjusting. Do not try this without your doctor. Your doctor might suggest changes in when you take your medicine, which can impact your energy levels during the day.4

Try a nap

A short, daily nap might be the restoration you need. Be careful not to sleep too long or too late in the day – this can keep you up at night. Usually, 10 to 30 minutes in the early afternoon works well for most people.4

Caffeine might help

If the afternoon slump is leaving you groggy and sleepy, try a cup of coffee. Many people can tolerate caffeine early in the afternoon without affecting their nighttime sleep routine. Some people should not have caffeine, but you and your doctor can decide if this is a good option for you.4

Remember your mental health

Depression and anxiety can lead to fatigue. These mental health challenges can happen more often in PD because of the disease itself and its effect on your life. Mental health is just as important as physical health. If you have looked at other reasons for your fatigue and are still struggling, consider seeing a mental health professional. Your doctor can help.4

You might have days where you struggle more with fatigue. Listen to your body and rest when you need to. However, keeping active and moving is essential to combating long-term fatigue related to PD. Juggling fatigue and movement problems can be challenging when you need to exercise.2,4

Talk to your doctor about how you can balance activity with rest to live an active, productive lifestyle with PD.2,4

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Written by: Katie Murphy │ Last reviewed: April 2022