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Take Fatigue Seriously - Says Researcher

Instead of dismissing grumblings about being tired or exhausted, people should take these complaints seriously// before they lead to a worsened health state or even death, says a University of Alberta researcher investigating fatigue.

Dr. Karin Olson, a U of A professor from the Faculty of Nursing, argues that there are differences between tiredness, fatigue and exhaustion and that recognizing those distinctions will help health-care workers create better treatment plans for their patients. Her findings are published in the current issue of Oncology Nursing Forum.

Olson has studied fatigue in six ill and non-ill populations: shift workers, recreational long distance runners, individuals with cancer in active treatment or palliative settings, and individuals diagnosed with depression or chronic fatigue syndrome. Having worked with cancer patients for many years, she saw how serious fatigue was and the impact it had on the patients’ quality of life. Some patients even withdrew for a potentially curative treatment saying they were “too tired.”

“The kind of fatigue experienced by individuals with cancer is different from the feeling that you or I have at the end of a busy week,” said Olson. “Interestingly, when you start looking at other populations, such as people with chronic illnesses or shift workers and take a broad view, the descriptions of fatigue are the same. Thus, while the reasons for fatigue may vary, the kinds of adaptations required may not.”

Olson, who is currently an Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR) Health Scholar, has created new definitions for tiredness, fatigue and exhaustion and argues that they represent various points on an energy continuum. The amount of energy a person has influences how easily he can adapt to stress that comes his way. Individuals who are tired still have a fair bit of energy, so although they may feel forgetful, and impatient, and experience gradual heaviness or w
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