Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is an ailment that makes you so tired and fatigued that it inhibits you from performing regular tasks. The chief symptom of CFS is that it lasts for more than 6 months. Physical or mental activities worsen the symptoms, while rest also does not help improve the condition.
Various treatments are aimed at alleviating the symptoms like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and graded exercise. Chronic fatigue syndrome is not the same as pretending symptoms (a disorder known as malingering). Chronic fatigue syndrome cannot be explained by any underlying medical condition.
This disease is of unknown etiology though theories exist ranging from viral infections to psychological stress. The symptoms may also be caused by a weak immune system or some hormonal imbalances. Experts believe that CFS results from a combination of these factors.
Depression is common when symptoms are severe or worsening. Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome often overlap with those of Fibromyalgia, a related disorder. However, a practical way to differentiate the disorders is that pain is the predominant problem in people with Fibromyalgia, whereas fatigue is the major complaint in people with CFS.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has eight official signs and symptoms including the chief symptom of excessive fatigue.:
- Loss of memory or concentration
- Sore throat
- Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
- Unexplained muscle pain
- Pain that moves from one joint to another without swelling or redness
- Headache of a new type, pattern or severity
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise
Causes of CFS
Despite a vigorous search, scientists have not yet identified what causes CFS. While a single cause for CFS may yet be identified, another possibility is that CFS has multiple triggers. Some of the possible causes of CFS might be:
- Immune dysfunction
- Abnormally low blood pressure that can cause fainting (neurally mediated hypotension)
- Nutritional deficiency
- Stress that activates the axis where the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands interact (the HPA axis)
When to see a doctor?
See your doctor if you have persistent or excessive fatigue.
Tests and diagnosis
There’s no single test to confirm Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. As symptoms resemble so many other health problems, you may need patience for the right diagnosis.Your doctor must rule out a number of other illnesses before diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome. Treatment for this problem, however, aims at providing relief to various symptoms.
Sleep disorders: Chronic fatigue can be caused by sleep disorders. A sleep study is required if your rest is being disturbed by obstructive sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome or insomnia.
Medical problems: Fatigue is a common symptom in several medical conditions, such as anemia, diabetes and underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). Lab tests can check your blood for evidence of these ailments.
Psychiatric problems: Fatigue is also a symptom of numerous mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. A counselor can help determine if one of these problems is the reason for your fatigue.
In most cases, symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome reduce with time. However, it may take years for symptoms to subside, and not all symptoms disappear. People may recover better if they focus more on what function they can recover than on how much function they have lost.
Specific symptoms such as pain, depression, and poor sleep are treated. The only treatments proven effective for chronic fatigue syndrome itself are cognitive-behavioral therapy and graded exercise.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is usually a brief course of psychotherapy aimed at redirecting hidden thoughts that could discourage people and prevent positive outlook and recovery. Graded exercise therapy (GET) on the other hand is a physical activity that starts very slowly and gradually increases over time.
Many people who have chronic fatigue syndrome are also depressed. Treating your depression can make it easier for you to cope with the problems associated with chronic fatigue syndrome. Low doses of some antidepressants also can help improve sleep and relieve pain.
How is chronic fatigue syndrome treated?
Symptoms such as muscle aches, sleep problems, anxiety and depression can be treated through various medicines. The medicine however may only reduce your symptoms and help you stay more active, not cure the fatigue. So far, there is no known medicine that can cure the entire syndrome. Most symptoms improve with time.
People can also turn to various supplements to improve the situation. The most common supplements people turn to for energy include:
Caffeine: It improves your metabolism and makes you feel like you have more physical and mental energy.
Ginseng: It improves mood and energy.
Vitamin B12: If you are a vegan, (you eat no meat, dairy, or other animal products), then you may need B12 supplements, because only animal foods have vitamin B12 naturally.
Coenzyme Q10: Your cells need this antioxidant to make energy.
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.
How can I help myself?
Keep a daily diary to identify times when you have the most energy. Plan your activities for these times.
Keep up some level of activity and exercise, within your abilities. Your doctor can help you plan an exercise program to maintain your strength at whatever level is possible. Exercise can help your body and mind.
Give yourself permission to recognize and express your feelings, such as sadness, anger and frustration. You may need to grieve for the energy you have lost.
Ask for support from family and friends. Look for support groups or counseling in your community. Your doctor is another important source of help. Emotional support is important in coping with a chronic health problem.
If your memory and concentration are affected by chronic fatigue, keep lists and make notes to remind yourself of important things. Also, give yourself more time for activities that take concentration. Medicine may also help you sleep better, which might improve your memory and concentration.
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