Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome has a number of signs and symptoms that can be very overwhelming and debilitating. As the name suggests, having an overwhelming sense of fatigue is the primary symptom.
Many people are tired a lot of the time due to a number of reasons, it is that chronic tiredness and exhaustion for 6 months or more that may be caused by chronic Fatigue.
What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome exactly?
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CSF), is also known as encephalomyelitis and can affect anyone at any age. Dr Alana Biggers explains it beautifully by stating, “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”.
What is the cause of CFS?
The exact cause of CFS is not yet known, but there is a link between chronic fatigue syndrome and viral illnesses, toxic exposure, and trauma. Some specific agents that are sometimes linked to developing chronic fatigue syndrome is Lymes disease and infectious mononucleosis. Doctors also believe that some of the following may contribute to developing CFS:
- Hormone imbalance
- Impaired immune function
What are the signs and symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome?
Chronic fatigue syndrome normally begins without warning, often following a viral illness or physical or psychological trauma. Although, there are some cases that develop more slowly over time, and only a small percentage of people recover back to 100% health.
Lets explore some of the more common symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Extreme exhaustion and tiredness
It is normal to feel exhausted or tired after a long and busy day. People with CFS sometimes need more than 24 hours to recover and feel wiped out for many days.
Although headaches can be caused for many reasons, headaches are common in people with CFS. If you are experiencing regular headaches, it is best to see your doctor to rule out any other causes.
Muscle and joint pain
Generalized muscle aches and joint pain could have a number of causes, but it is a common symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome. Some suffers compare the muscle and joint pain to having the flu.
Some other signs and symptoms of chronic fatigue include
- Flu-like symptoms after exercise and may wipe out your energy for a day or two
- muscle aches
- Sore throat
- swollen lymph glands
- inability to focus on tasks and concentration problems
- Feeling dizzy and unwell if you stand up too fast (Orthostatic intolerance)
Many people feel tired a lot of the time, and many seek help from their doctors. Most people who experience chronic (long-lasting) fatigue are not suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. Depression and overwork are much more common causes of chronic fatigue. The good news is that most people experience tiredness and fatigue, especially in the overworked population who are burning out. I have added some information on warning signs of burnout and overcoming burnout below.
There is currently no single test to determine if a person has CFS. Generally, doctors will diagnose when a person has experienced symptoms for longer than 6-months, and have eliminated other possible causes.
Your GP will take a full medical history, may order some tests such as blood and urine tests to rule out other causes.
There are other conditions that have similar symptoms to CSF, they include:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Mental health disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder
- Chronic stress and burnout
Treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Due to the lack of understanding of the cause of CFS, this makes treatment particularly challenging. Unfortunately, there is no known cure, so treatment is based around managing the symptoms.
Treatment primarily focuses on controlling symptoms and improving quality of life for the patient. Due to the varying symptoms each individual may experience, treatment plans are individualised plans that focus on reducing symptoms such as pain, headaches and insomnia.
Physiotherapy treatment has been shown to be very effective to help develop and supervise exercise regime that is gentle and won’t wipe out their energy levels.
There is not a lot of research to support the use of alternative therapies for the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome. However, some may find benefit in therapies such as massage, acupressure/acupuncture and reiki.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction has shown to reduce chronic stress and anxiety and helps to improve the quality of life for all people as well as those suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.
I have written a blog post on mindfulness practice as seen below.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Online support groups such as Smartpatients CFS support group