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Virtually Exhausted: Doctors, Others Get a Taste of Cancer Patient Fatigue

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And it's important to do so, says Russell Portenoy, MD, chairman of the Department of Pain and Palliative Care at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. "I don't think there's any question that fatigue can have an impact on how patients physically deal with the disease," he says. Fatigue can lead to secondary problems such as blood clots associated with not moving around much, and it can also have an indirect negative affect on the immune system.

Portenoy now knows about extreme fatigue firsthand, thanks to the virtual reality fatigue machine. He says he spent a "miserable" 10 minutes hooked up to it. "The bottom line -- it was an intense, negative feeling," he says.

Vital Information:

  • Health care workers can now experience severe fatigue, a common complaint among cancer patients, by using a virtual reality device.
  • Common causes of fatigue among patients are anemia, depression, stress, difficulty sleeping, and the use of morphine-based painkillers.
  • Fatigue often goes untreated, in part because patients don't know there are remedies and don't discuss the problem with their physicians.
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