Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complicated disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that can’t be explained by any underlying medical condition. The fatigue may worsen with physical or mental activity, but doesn’t improve with rest.
This condition is also known as systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID) or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). Sometimes it’s abbreviated as ME/CFS.
A disease characterized by profound fatigue, sleep abnormalities, pain and other symptoms that are made worse by exertion. Chronic fatigue syndrome occurs more commonly in women.
There are triggers for chronic fatigue syndrome. Everyone is different, though, and may experience symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome differently, but the Centers for Disease Control and doctors classify chronic fatigue syndrome as having at least four of the following physical symptoms for at least six months.
The fatigue often worsens with activity, but doesn’t improve with rest.
There’s no single test to confirm a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome.
It is a Diagnosis of Exclusion because a variety of medical tests are done to rule out other health problems that have similar symptoms.
Treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome focuses on symptom relief not cure.
Signs and Symptoms may include:
- Pain areas: in the joints or muscles
- Whole body: fatigue, inability to exercise, or malaise
- Cognitive: confusion, forgetfulness, or lack of concentration, memory loss
- Sleep: excess sleepiness or sleep disturbances
- Mood: anxiety or apprehension
- Also common: depression, headache, hyperalgesia, muscle weakness, or sore throat
- Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
- Extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise
- Unrefreshing sleep
Unclear and Complex. If you suspect chronic fatigue syndrome, you should find a healthcare practitioner who can take a holistic approach to your health and uncover underlying health issues and lifestyle factors that may contribute to your fatigue.
Why this occurs in some people and not others is still unknown. Some people may be born with a predisposition for the disorder, which is then triggered by a combination of factors. Potential triggers include:
- Viral infections.Because some people develop chronic fatigue syndrome after having a viral infection, researchers question whether some viruses might trigger the disorder. Suspicious viruses include Epstein-Barr virus, human herpes virus 6 and mouse leukemia viruses. No conclusive link has yet been found.
- Immune system problems.The immune systems of people who have chronic fatigue syndrome appear to be impaired slightly, but it’s unclear if this impairment is enough to actually cause the disorder.
- Hormonal imbalances.People who have chronic fatigue syndrome also sometimes experience abnormal blood levels of hormones produced in the hypothalamus, pituitary glands or adrenal glands. But the significance of these abnormalities is still unknown.
Factors that may increase your risk of chronic fatigue syndrome include:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome can occur at any age, but it most commonly affects people in their 40s and 50s.
- Women are diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome much more often than men, but it may be that women are simply more likely to report their symptoms to a doctor.
- Difficulty managing stress may contribute to the development of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Possible complications of chronic fatigue syndrome include:
- Social isolation
- Lifestyle restrictions
- Increased work absences
There’s no test for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), but there are clear guidelines to help doctors diagnose the condition.
Your GP should ask you about your medical history and give you a physical examination.
It can take a while for CFS/ME to be diagnosed because other conditions with similar symptoms need to be ruled out first. In the meantime, you may be given some advice about managing your symptoms.
1. Eliminate sugar and processed or packaged foods.
Eat a candy bar and your energy will usually plummet soon after. Sugar and other refined carbohydrates give you a little shot of energy, but at a huge expense: Those blood sugar spikes nosedive quickly, leaving you feeling drained. If eliminating sugar completely is too challenging, gradually trade it for lower-sugar foods, like berries, to transition off sugar. Eat nuts instead of chips or cookies.
2. Reduce or eliminate caffeine and alcohol.
That afternoon coffee might give you a temporary boost, but if you metabolize caffeine poorly or use caffeine as a crutch for things like bad sleep, coffee can zap your energy. Alcohol can too. It may calm your nerves for a short time, but may leave you drained or mentally foggy a few hours later.
3. Get 7 – 9 hours of sleep nightly.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Some questions you can ask yourself to see if you are not sleeping enough include: Does it take me a long time to fall asleep? Do I wake up often or am I restless? Do I feel sleepy when driving? Do I need caffeine to get through the day? Answer, “yes,” to any of these indicates you may not be getting enough quality sleep.
Spending hours at the gym isn’t doing your chronic fatigue levels any good – remember over exercising can be a culprit of chronic fatigue syndrome. The most effective way to exercise and increase your energy is through the high-intensity interval training (HIIT). These short, intense “bursts” give you a full workout in little time.
5. Find ways to relax and reset your mind.
For some people, taking 20 minutes during the afternoon to meditate can be enough to recharge. Maybe yoga or deep breathing is your thing. Whatever you do, find time to relax and reset your mind.
- Cognitive Behavioural therapy and Group therapy have been found to be beneficial in learning self-care and recognition of early signs and symptoms of a flare up and teaching paced life style.
Chronic fatigue can impair your health and happiness, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. While it may take some time, and some behavior changes, you can get your energy back and reclaim your health and wellbeing.
This is a journey to walk through with your Family doctor, relevant specialists and the support and understanding of family and friends.