Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or CFS: what to know

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disorder characterized by extreme fatigue or tiredness that doesn’t go away with rest and can’t be explained by an underlying medical condition.

CFS can also be referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID).

However, the causes of CFS aren’t fully understood yet. Other theories include viral infection, psychological stress, or a combination of factors.

While CFS was previously a controversial diagnosis, it’s now widely accepted as a medical condition.

CFS can affect anyone, though it’s most common among women in their 40s and 50s. Although, there’s currently no cure, but treatment can relieve symptoms.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complicated disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that lasts for at least six months and that can’t be fully explained by an underlying medical condition. The fatigue worsens with physical or mental activity, but doesn’t improve with rest.

Other characteristic symptoms include:

  • Sleep that isn’t refreshing
  • Difficulties with memory, focus and concentration
  • Dizziness that worsens with moving from lying down or sitting to standing

There’s no single test to confirm a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. You may need a variety of medical tests to rule out other health problems that have similar symptoms. Treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome focuses on improving symptoms.

Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome can vary from person to person, and the severity of symptoms can fluctuate from day to day. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Problems with memory or concentration
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
  • Unexplained muscle or joint pain
  • Dizziness that worsens with moving from lying down or sitting to standing
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Extreme exhaustion after physical or mental exercise

Causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome 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 the Epstein-Barr virus, human herpes virus 6.
  • 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.
  • Physical or emotional trauma. 
    • Some people report that they experienced an injury, surgery or significant emotional stress shortly before their symptoms began.

When to see a doctor

Fatigue can be a symptom of many illnesses, such as infections or psychological disorders. In general, see your doctor if you have persistent or excessive fatigue.

Diagnosis

CFS is a very challenging condition to diagnose.

There are no medical tests to screen for CFS. Its symptoms are similar to many other conditions. Many people with CFS don’t “look sick,” so doctors may not recognize that they indeed have a health condition.

In order to receive a CFS diagnosis, your doctor will rule out other potential causes and review your medical history with you.

They’ll confirm that you at least have the core symptoms previously mentioned. They’ll also ask about the duration and severity of your unexplained fatigue.

Ruling out other potential causes of your fatigue is a key part of the diagnosis process. Some conditions with symptoms that resemble those of CFS include:

The side effects of certain drugs, such as antihistamines and alcohol, can mimic symptoms of CFS as well.

Because of the similarities between symptoms of CFS and many other conditions, it’s important to not self-diagnose. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms. They can work with you to get relief.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Treatment

There’s currently no specific cure for CFS.

Each person has different symptoms and therefore may require different types of treatment to manage the disorder and relieve their symptoms.

Work with your team of healthcare providers to create the best treatment plan for you. They can go over the possible benefits and side effects of the therapies with you.

Home remedies and lifestyle changes

Making some lifestyle changes may help reduce your symptoms.

Limiting or eliminating your caffeine intake can help you sleep better and ease your insomnia. You should limit or avoid nicotine and alcohol too.

Try to avoid napping during the day if it’s hurting your ability to sleep at night.

Create a sleep routine. Go to bed at the same time every night and aim to wake up around the same time every day.

Medications

Typically, no one medication can treat all of your symptoms. Also, your symptoms may change over time, so your medications may have to as well.

In many cases, CFS can trigger or be a symptom of depression. As a result, you may need low-dose antidepressant therapy or a referral to a mental health provider.

If lifestyle changes don’t give you a restful night’s sleep, your doctor may suggest a sleep aid. Pain-reducing medication can also help you cope with aches and joint pain caused by CFS.

Work closely with your doctor. There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment for CFS.

Alternative medicine

Additionally, Acupuncture, tai chi, yoga, and massage may help relieve the pain associated with CFS. Always talk to your doctor before beginning any alternative or complementary treatments.

Risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk of chronic fatigue syndrome include:

  • Age
    • Chronic fatigue syndrome can occur at any age, but it most commonly affects young to middle-aged adults.
  • Sex
    • Women are diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome more often than men, it’s probably because women are most likely to report their symptoms to a doctor than men.

Complications

Possible complications of chronic fatigue syndrome include:

  • Lifestyle restrictions
  • Increased work absences
  • Social isolation
  • Depression

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