Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Disputed Aetiology and Other

Everyone feels fatigue once in a while. Lack of sleep, stress, and a busy lifestyle can prevent us from getting enough rest. In most cases, we recover quickly and go on with life. In cases of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), the fatigue does not go away for months or even years.

CFS, also called systemic exertion intolerance disease, or myalgic encephalomyelitis, is a severe and disabling fatigue that cannot be attributed to other health issues, gets worse with stress or physical activity, and does not improve with rest. It affects over 2.5 million people in the United States. Once called “yuppie flu”, it was not fully supported by the medical community until recently. Researchers now confirm that CFS is a real illness and believe it is quite serious.

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Symptoms

The first symptom to appear with CFS is fatigue. Other symptoms include:

Other symptoms include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle pain that does not go away
  • Joint pain
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Headaches
  • Lymph node tenderness
  • Sore throat
  • Brain fog
  • Dizziness, balance problems, fainting issues
  • Chemical sensitivities, food allergies, problems with noise
  • Irritable bowels
  • Fast or irregular heartbeats
  • Night sweats
  • Chills
  • Blurry vision, eye pain, sensitivity to light
  • Depression, anxiety, irritable moods

 The fatigue must be present for at least 6 months.

Risk Factors

Certain groups are at higher risk for CFS. These include:

Sex. While men can get CFS, it seems to be more prevalent in women.

Stress. It was once called the yuppie flu because people in high-stress occupations tend to get chronic fatigue more often.

Age. CFS usually affects people between the ages of 40 and 50, although it can happen to anyone at any time.

Diagnosis

There is no test for CFS. If you experience the symptoms above for longer than 6 months, the doctor will check labs, imaging studies, and ask questions about your health. If all other causes are ruled out, the doctor can make a diagnosis according to the following criteria:

  • Fatigue has lasted at least six months
  • Fatigue interferes with work and normal daily functions
  • Four or more of the following:
    • Fatigue after exertion that lasts longer than 24 hours
    • Not feeling rested after sleep
    • Loss of concentration or short-term memory
    • Pain in the muscles
    • Joint pain
    • Headaches
    • Lymph node tenderness
    • Sore throat
  • The above symptoms cannot be explained and are not related to any other illness

Treatments

Currently, there is no medication capable of addressing all of the symptoms of CFS. Treatment usually combines several therapies:

Medications. Doctors may try antidepressants, medications for ADHD to improve focus, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. They may be used one at a time or in combination.

Graded exercise. This is an exercise that begins with low intensity and increases your tolerance. If you begin to feel fatigued, the exercise level drops down in intensity until tolerance improves.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy. This may involve journaling symptoms, practicing positive thinking, learning how to improve memory and concentration, and managing activities to prevent fatigue.

Paced activities. This means pacing activities throughout the day, week, and month. You need to break up large tasks and do them a little at a time to prevent wearing yourself out.

Diet. With chronic fatigue, it is important to get the right vitamins and nutrients from fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates. It is also important to eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids to help improve brain function.

Alternative Treatments and Home Remedies

Some safe alternative medicine therapies can help with symptoms. These include yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, relaxation, and acupuncture. Your doctor may approve of using these along with any medical treatments.

Supplements can be helpful with your doctor’s approval. Some of the supplements that may help with chronic fatigue are:

  • DHEA
  • Ginseng
  • Vitamin B12
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin C

Some of the herbs purported to help chronic fatigue could be dangerous. A few of these are St. John’s Wort, ginkgo biloba, comfrey, and ma huang. If you want to try herbal remedies, see your doctor and check for adverse effects before using any.

Lifestyle Changes

If you work and have CFS, you may need to make arrangements for alternative work schedules to allow time for rest. Many companies recognize CFS as an illness and can make arrangements. Some people feel better in the mornings, while others feel better in the afternoon.

You may find that you need to cut out some of your extra activities. Learn to say “no” if you don’t feel up to that Sunday cook-out with friends.

References

Alraek, T., et. al. (2011, October 07). Complementary and alternative medicine for patients with chronic fatigue syndrome: A systematic review. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 11(87). Retrieved from SpringerLink: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/1472-6882-11-87

Cleare, A. J. (2003). The neuroendocrinology of chronic fatigue syndrome. Endocrine Reviews. Retrieved from Oxford Academic: https://doi.org/10.1210/er.2002-0014

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, January 28). Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/me-cfs/index.html

Mayo Clinic. Chronic fatigue syndrome. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-fatigue-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20360490

Medline Plus. Chronic fatigue syndrome. Retrieved from Medline Plus: https://medlineplus.gov/chronicfatiguesyndrome.html

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