Chronic fatigue syndrome is a common disorder that is also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). What is ME? Simply put, myalgia stands for muscle pain, which is characteristic of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and encephalomyelitis, which describes inflammation of your brain and spinal cord. Middle aged-women are more likely to experience this disorder, although men and teenagers may also be affected.
What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
CFS, or chronic fatigue syndrome is a disorder marked by persistent fatigue without known cause. Symptoms last more than six months and at least four of the following symptoms will occur at the same time:
- Long-term fatigue that is not due to known medical problem
- Cognitive (mental) problems such as poor concentration or memory
- Tender lymph nodes
- Sore throat
- Muscle pains
- Multiple joint pains but no swelling/redness
- Severe headaches, not like previous headaches
- A feeling of tiredness even after sleep
- Extreme tiredness after exercise or exertion that lasts more than 24 hours
Chronic fatigue syndrome may not be easy to diagnose because it may be similar to other conditions such as depression. The criteria for diagnosing CFS consists mainly of the characteristics mentioned above, which last for at least six months, and for which there are no underlying medical conditions associated.
What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
People may experience the symptoms of CFS in varying ways and intensities. Your symptoms may also improve from time to time, enabling you to go on with your normal daily activities. But sometimes, you may experience flares, and your symptoms may become worse, making you unable to function normally.
Chronic physical fatigue and mental exhaustion are the hallmarks of CFS. It will seem like you are extremely tired even after you have slept or rested from your usual activities. Physical activities can make your symptoms worse, but the effects may be delayed.
Severe CFS can make you incapable of carrying out even simple tasks, which can result in being unable to leave your bed or your home.
- Severe headaches, muscle pain, and joint pains
- "Brain fog," which is characterized by poor memory, concentration, and difficulty in organizing thoughts
- Painful lymph nodes
- Sore throat
- Stomach pain and digestive problems such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and nausea
- Sleep problems
- Increased sensitivity to loud noises, light, alcohol and some foods
- Psychological symptoms include irritability, panic attacks, and depression
- Less commonly, you may experience dizziness, balance problems, difficulty controlling your body temperature, and excess sweating
When to See a Doctor
Seek medical attention when your symptoms do not improve and they affect the quality of your life. Seek treatment from a qualified doctor and ask for more information from a medical society or medical school.
What Are the Causes & Risk Factors of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
There is no known cause for chronic fatigue syndrome. However, experts believe that it may be the result of a combination of factors, which include:
- Viral infection. Many people develop CFS after being infected by a virus, such as Epstein-Barr virus, herpes virus, and mouse leukemia virus. However, no solid evidence has been found yet.
- Immune system disorder. People with CFS may have immune impairment, but it is unclear if it is enough to cause the disorder.
- Hormonal imbalance. Some people with CFS have levels of hormones, but the link to the disorder is still unknown.
Factors that increase your risk of CFS include:
- Age. CFS can occur at any age, but it is more common among people who are 40 to 50 years old.
- Gender. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with CFS than men, but some experts think that this may be due to women being more likely to report symptoms to their doctors.
- Stress. Problems in managing stress can contribute to CFS.
What Are the Treatments for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
There is no cure for CFS, but treatment focuses on relief of underlying symptoms. Your doctor will prescribe a suitable medication tailored to your symptoms, and these may include antidepressants and sleep aids.
There are still some advices on changing your lifestyle, which can reduce the symptoms and help you enjoy a normal life:
- Avoid overexertion. Do not work or exercise more than you can handle, especially when you are beginning to feel warning signs of fatigue. Take regular breaks from work.
- Do not compare your efforts or activity levels based on other people's activities. Your physical abilities may vary day to day, so do more important tasks when you are feeling better.
- Find the right doctor. Not many doctors understand CFS, and some of them may be insensitive to your needs. Find a specialist and visit their clinic regularly.
- Watch what you eat. Keeping a food diary may help you find out what foods and eating patterns are causing your symptoms and which ones are making you feel better. Food sensitivities and food allergies may be related to CFS symptoms.
- Manage your stress. Keep your schedules flexible and make attainable goals. Avoid watching stressful shows on TV, obnoxious acquaintances, petty arguments, or anything that is not worth stressing about.
- Find activities you can do without stress. This may include going out with friends, reading a good book, going out to the garden, or playing a relaxing computer game.
- Rest if you must. Do not be ashamed to accept your physical limitation. Say "no" to tasks which require too much physical or mental exertion.
- Identify what triggers your symptoms. These may include certain elements in the environment. Avoid these if you can to prevent onset of symptoms.
- Look for alternative therapies. Alternative medicine has been known to alleviate CFS symptoms. These therapies include acupuncture, hypnotherapy, homeopathy, and yoga.
- Join a support group. You are not alone in your sufferings, and the people who can understand you most are those who suffer like you. You can also find organizations that support people like you.
Watch the video below to have a quick view on chronic fatigue syndrome: