The experience of fatigue across long-term conditions: A qualitative meta-synthesis

Document Type

Journal Article


Elsevier Inc

Place of Publication

United States


School of Nursing and Midwifery




Whitehead, L.C., Unahi, K., burrell, B., & Crowe, M. T. (2016). The experience of fatigue across long-term conditions: A qualitative meta-synthesis. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 52(1), 131-143. Available here.


Context Fatigue is a common and debilitating symptom associated with many long-term conditions and is reported to cause significant levels of distress for those individuals. There is a substantial body of literature related to the nature of fatigue; however, this has not been drawn together and compared across conditions. Objectives The aim of this review was to synthesize data on the nature of fatigue across long-term conditions. Methods The review was designed as a qualitative meta-synthesis and followed the Joanna Briggs Institute guidelines for synthesizing qualitative research. The following databases were searched for the period January 1980 to January 2016, Ovid (Medline, Embase, CINAHL, and PsycINFO) and manual searching from the reference lists from articles identified by electronic search. Fifty-seven studies were included in the review, and findings related to the nature of fatigue were extracted and findings meta-synthesized. Results The perceived nature of fatigue across long-term conditions was encompassed in one synthesis; the fatigue experience is without precedent, with four categories: a different fatigue to any experienced before, the intensity of fatigue is overwhelming, the trajectory of fatigue, and impact on sleep and sleep disturbance. Just over half of the participants in the included studies were diagnosed with cancer. Patterns in the experience of fatigue by condition were found for cancer-related fatigue and post-stroke fatigue where data were able to be synthesized. Conclusion Although similarities in the nature of the fatigue experienced were found across conditions, differences were also evident and could be mapped for cancer-related fatigue and post-stroke fatigue. Further qualitative research on the experience of fatigue across a wide range of chronic conditions would further contribute to understanding similarities and differences across conditions and inform both research and practice in relation to assessment and management.



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