Get access

Women's experiences of fatigue in chronic illness


  • Debbie Kralik PhD RN,

  • Kerry Telford BASW Grad Dip,

  • Kay Price PhD RN,

  • Tina Koch PhD RN

Debbie Kralik,
School of Nursing and Midwifery,
University of South Australia,
Royal District Nursing Service of SA Inc Foundation (RDNS),
RDNS Research Unit,
PO Box 247,
Australia 5065.


Aim.  The aim of this paper is to add a qualitative dimension to the body of knowledge about fatigue by revealing the meaning given by women living with chronic illness to the experience of fatigue.

Background.  Fatigue is a common symptom experienced by people who live with chronic illness. It pervades every aspect of life and may be experienced in physical, psychological, emotional or social dimensions. Management of fatigue relies heavily on the individual's ability to employ self-care actions. The invisibility of fatigue is recognized as one of the most frustrating aspects, which can lead to lack of understanding and misunderstanding by others.

Method.  We report the findings of data from research in progress (2003–2005). Data were generated via email group conversations between us and 30 women who live with long-term illness.

Findings.  A recurring conversational thread has been women's experiences of fatigue when living with long-term illness. Although fatigue has been reported to be a major obstacle to maintaining usual daily activities and quality of life, few studies have explored this common symptom from the perspective of people themselves. Common themes found in the experience of fatigue as described by women are the meaning of fatigue, awareness as self-care, fatigue as invisible to others, seeking medical validation and accountability for self-care.

Conclusion.  It is vital for healthcare workers to give opportunities for women to talk about fatigue, validate their experiences and provide support with self-care. Healthcare workers are encouraged to challenge their own meanings and expectations surrounding a person's report of fatigue so that opportunities for therapeutic intervention can be facilitated.