Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID), is a disorder that causes extreme fatigue or tiredness, which usually does not go away with rest, has no detectable underlying cause and cannot be explained by any medical condition. (Sampson, 2020) It is a new state of fatigue that lasts for months and can cause you to not be able to participate or carry out normal day-to-day activities at home, at work or in general. (Khatri, 2020)
Causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
The causes of CFS are unknown, but certain factors can contribute to the disorder. They are:
- A weakened immune system or an immune system with abnormalities
- Hormonal imbalances
- Genetically predisposed to CFS
- Different viruses
- Brain abnormalities that might or might not be permanent (Khatri, 2020)
Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
The most common symptom of CFS is fatigue, to an extent that normal activities are also difficult to execute. The fatigue must last for at least 6 months and is not curable by rest. (Sampson, 2020) Other common symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome are:
- You might have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, suffer from chronic insomnia and other sleep disorders. You may also feel unrefreshed even after a night’s sleep. (Sampson, 2020)
- You may also experience memory loss, reduced concentration and orthostatic intolerance (Sampson, 2020)
- It is also common to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, depression, fibromyalgia or anxiety (Mayo Clinic, 2020)
- Other physical symptoms may include muscle pain, frequent headaches, sore throat, tender and swollen lymph nodes in the neck and armpits (Sampson, 2020)
CFS symptoms vary individually and are based on the severity of the condition. It often affects people in phases known as remission, when the symptoms disappear completely and relapse, when the symptoms return later. (Sampson, 2020)
Diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
There’s no particular test for the diagnosis of CFS and the symptoms are also common to other conditions, making the diagnosis quite difficult. The easiest way to diagnose CFS is by ruling out other diseases and disorders and reviewing your past medical history.
The doctor might order blood and urine tests and scans. All current medications, supplements should be disclosed to the doctor as it is possible that they may be causing some of the symptoms or leading to side effects. As per experts, CFS affects 2.5 million Americans but only about 20% of them are diagnosed. (Cassoobhoy, 2020)
Often, CFS may also resemble diseases like mononucleosis, Lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia, major depressive disorder, severe obesity and sleep disorders. (Sampson, 2020)
Since the disorder is difficult to diagnose and has symptoms common to other diseases and disorders, it is essential to consult a doctor, be clear with them about your symptoms and medical history and get the right treatment.
Treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
There is no one particular treatment or cure for CFS. Each person has different symptoms which have to be treated differently to help relieve the symptoms. (Sampson, 2020)
With Medication: Depression is often a trigger or symptom of CFS. Low doses of antidepressants can be assigned to people to overcome depression. A sleeping aid might be prescribed by doctors for those with major trouble sleeping and pain medication can help cure muscle pain and joint aches. Medicines that regulate blood pressure are prescribed for orthostatic intolerance. (Mayo Clinic, 2020)
With Lifestyle Changes: Making certain lifestyle changes like less intake of caffeine to help you sleep better, limitation of nicotine and alcohol, avoiding naps during the day, having a daily routine, especially a sleep routine can help with the symptoms of CFS. (Sampson, 2020)
With Therapy: Counselling can help build coping skills to deal with the issues and illness, especially depression and anxiety. It can also help with sleep problems. Physical therapy by maintaining activities that can be tolerated without worsened symptoms can prevent deconditioning. (Mayo Clinic, 2020)
Alternative medicine is another route chosen by many which involves yoga, acupuncture, tai chi, herbal supplements and massages to relieve the symptoms of CFS. However, do consult your doctor before beginning any of these treatments. (Sampson, 2020)
The CFS Journey
Since the cause and cure have yet to be determined, CFS is still a complex disorder with a recovery rate of only 5%. Managing CFS requires constantly working with your doctor on a treatment plan as the disorder can vary differently between people and from time to time. Join a support group, seek help and trust a team of healthcare workers like doctors, therapists, and rehabilitation specialists to get the right treatment. (Sampson, 2020)
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. The syndrome can make you feel helpless and not in control of your body. Find a support group online or on social media to give you the opportunity to talk about symptoms and relief strategies with others. We found the Solve M.E. a nonprofit organization as well as NORD, the National Organization for Rare Disorders to have extensive resources and links to social their respective media groups.
Khatri, Minesh. “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) Causes – Who Gets It and Why.” WebMD, WebMD, 2020, www.webmd.com/chronic-fatigue-syndrome/what-is-chronic-fatigue-syndrome.
Sampson, Stacy. “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 2020, https://www.healthline.com/health/chronic-fatigue-syndrome.
“Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 24 Sept. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-fatigue-syndrome/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20360510.
Cassoobhoy, Arefa. “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) – Exams, Tests, Diagnosis, Related Conditions.” WebMD, WebMD, 2020, www.webmd.com/chronic-fatigue-syndrome/do_i-have-chronic-fatigue-syndrome.