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Your child’s disease and treatments might make him feel more tired than usual. This feeling is called “fatigue.” Fatigue affects many patients. It does not mean that the illness is getting worse or that the treatment is not working. This handout tells you about possible causes for fatigue, signs of fatigue you might see in your child, and steps you can take to help. For more information, see “Do You Know ... More ways to fight fatigue.”

Possible causes of fatigue

No one knows exactly what causes fatigue. Your child might feel tired for one (1) or more of these reasons:

  • Disease side effects, such as infection and anemia (too few red blood cells). These side effects can affect your child’s energy level.
  • Chemotherapy, other medicines, and radiation therapy can all lead to fatigue.
  • Work and sleep habits might change as you and your family rush to keep up with doctor visits, exams, tests, and treatments. Doing too much can be tiring.
  • Noises such as voices, alarms, and announcements can interrupt sleep in the hospital.
  • The stress of dealing with the disease and coping with feeling anxious or depressed can lead to loss of sleep and fatigue.
  • Bone marrow and stem cell transplants can take a great deal of energy from your child. This can happen during and after a transplant.

Signs of fatigue

Fatigue affects everyone differently. It can last for a long time or for a short time, and it can happen during or after treatment. If your child is fatigued, he might:

  • Want to close his eyes often,
  • Avoid play and other activities,
  • Say he is too tired to think or do other things,
  • Want more sleep,
  • Get mad, upset, or sad more often than usual, and
  • Not act like himself or want to be left alone.

How to fight fatigue

Getting a good night’s sleep or taking a nap might help, but this alone is not enough to fight fatigue. Another step you can take is to watch for patterns in your child’s energy levels. Then, plan activities around daily highs and lows.

Watch for the signs of fatigue listed above. Keep a journal of your child’s daily activities and how much energy he has at certain times of the day. You will start to notice a pattern in your child’s fatigue. You might also notice that some activities seem to give your child energy.

Another way to fight fatigue is to treat underlying physical problems that can cause fatigue, such as anemia or infection. The doctor might order a blood transfusion or drugs to increase the number of red blood cells in your child’s body.

A balanced diet with smaller meals or snacks eaten more often through the day can help your child maintain energy. To learn more, talk to a St. Jude dietitian.

Encourage your child to think about things other than fatigue and illness. Whether your child is playing or resting quietly, focus on activities that gradually build up strength and do not quickly drain energy.

If your child shows signs of fatigue, ask your doctor or nurse for help in finding ways to increase your child’s energy level. You can also read “Do You Know . . . More ways to fight fatigue.”


If you have questions or concerns about fatigue, talk to your child’s nurse or doctor.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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