What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a complex physical disorder that is also associated with psychological factors, and may continue for years.
In the past this condition was more often referred to as ME, or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. Today it is generally referred to under the umbrella term of ME/CFS; –
- ME – “myalgic” means muscular aches and pains, whilst “encephalomyelitis” means inflammation of the brain and/or spinal chord.
- CFS – chronic fatigue syndrome which refers to persistent, long term fatigue.
There is a standard definition for ME/CFS which is known as “The Oxford Criteria” and is as follows:-
The ‘Oxford Criteria’ (1990) defines ME/CFS as a syndrome in which:
- there is a definite onset (i.e., it’s not lifelong)
- fatigue is the main symptom
- the fatigue is severe, disabling and affects both physical and mental functioning
- the fatigue has been present for at least six months, during which time it has been present more than 50 per cent of the time
- other symptoms may be present, particularly myalgia, mood and sleep disturbance.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is an overwhelming condition for sufferers. The associated fatigue is devastating, but there are also many other, different symptoms that complicate the situation further. And to make things worse, none of these symptoms are relieved by rest but become worse with physical or mental work.
A person suffering from the disorder, more often than not, is incapable of normal, day-to-day activities and must maintain a lower level of exertion than is normal.
According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, these bouts of fatigue are accompanied with muscle pain, impaired memory or mental concentration, insomnia, and weakness coupled with depression that can last for over 24 hours following exercise.
The causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are unknown, with no definitive tests for diagnosing the condition. Things are further complicated as there are numerous medical conditions, such as Lyme Disease, where fatigue features as a symptom; making it difficult to tell these conditions apart. To make matters even more problematic, as the combination of symptoms can be unique to each patient, there is no single solution for the disorder.
What Causes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
There are many theories regarding the cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but in the past two decades – since chronic fatigue syndrome was first recognised – no-one has been able to discover a cause. Instead, doctors now rely on preventing people contracting the condition in the first place.
There are certain conditions which seem to be possible factors in the development of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The most common of these are:
1) Infections, specifically the Epstein – Barr virus which causes mono (but no specific class of virus has been directly connected to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)
2) Immune System Problems related to inflammation in the nervous system (like allergies)
3) Emotional Stress, involving productions of hormones which may lead to stress
4) Low blood pressure (it has been researched that there is a connection between this factor and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but with no certainty).
Although not exclusive, the following are thought to be risk factors in developing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome:
2) Medical History,
4) Hereditary factors,
5) Environmental conditions, and
6) Poor eating habits.
Roughly, 65% of people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome suffer from allergies (this is more than 3 times the rate in the general population) and they often have poor or impaired immune responses.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome becomes worse with depression and makes the person suffer longer than expected.
Who is at risk of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Researches say that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome mostly affects women aged thirty to fifty years old, but does not target any specific ethnicities. Whilst it has been found to be rare in children, it is more common in teenagers. However, the symptoms in younger patients appear to improve over time.
This disorder is neither contagious, nor is it infectious.
How to recognize Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
This is a very tricky subject, and even doctors have difficulty diagnosing people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Most symptoms mimic those of the flu virus and other common viral infections. These symptoms may even come and go – lasting last a month, a year or many years.
The University of Maryland Medical Center published some signs and symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as follows:
1) Sudden severe fatigue;
2) Low grade fever of 100.4 ° F (or 38 o C) and chills
3) Sore throat and swollen lymph glands (in the neck or underarms)
4) Muscle aches (myalgias) and joint aches, without any swelling or redness
5) Headaches that are different from past experiences
6) Sleep that doesn’t feel refreshing
6) Unable to focus mentally, or forgetfulness and even confusion
7) Alteration in mood.
The main symptom of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is fatigue or extreme tiredness.
This fatigue will be new to the person, may last at least six months, will be sufficiently severe that the person will only achieve half their normal daily activities and will not be alleviated by bed rest.
With these symptoms, any person with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome will, understandably become irritable.
Do you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
The difficulty in diagnosing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can be frustrating to someone who thinks they may have this disorder as there is no test to pinpoint the disorder yet.
However, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided two standard qualifications aiding physicians to distinguish a patient with chronic fatigue syndrome. These are:
1) Unexplained fatigue that lasts for 6 months or longer. It prevents the person with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome from doing daily living activities. It becomes overwhelming with no apparent reason. It affects school, work and leisure.
2) Having four or more of the symptoms mentioned above (University of Maryland Medical Center guidelines).
What to expect from medical professionals?
Because no definitive test has yet been developed for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, your doctor or health care provider must carefully observe the signs and symptoms you are exhibiting.
They will take a comprehensive medical history together with a head to toe physical exam, and laboratory tests to rule out any medical conditions that have similar symptoms.
If you are diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, your doctor will prescribe medicines to treat the symptoms. Some health care providers recommend herbal and vitamin supplements suitable for the exhibited symptoms, or a change in diet and lifestyle to facilitate management of the disorder.
These treatments when solidly backed up with positive outlook may alleviate the symptoms and help to improve the condition over time.
How to manage Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Effective treatment is not limited to the medical field, but relies on having a support system for handling the emotional stress as well. In line with research, other available treatments can aid in treating the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome; these include psychological support and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Whilst there is no cure for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, it can be managed. The symptoms are the backbones of the disorder and these may be decreased or limited with proper medications. Examples are antidepressants and anti – anxiety drugs, whilst pain relievers and anti – inflammatory medications may be prescribed to alleviate muscle and joint pains.
The conclusion is that the combination of pharmaceutical and non – pharmaceutical medication in conjunction with complementary therapies – such as yoga and meditation – provides the best way to manage Chronic Fatigue Syndrome symptoms.
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