Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Medically reviewed: 24, January 2024

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What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a commonly used umbrella term that encompasses various conditions such as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), myalgic encephalopathy, post-viral fatigue syndrome (PVFS), and chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS). These conditions are characterized by persistent and debilitating fatigue, often accompanied by a range of other symptoms.

CFS can significantly impact a person’s quality of life, causing limitations in daily activities and overall functioning. It is important to understand that CFS is a complex and multifaceted condition, which makes it challenging to diagnose and treat effectively.

Research efforts are ongoing to unravel the underlying mechanisms and develop more targeted interventions for individuals living with this debilitating condition.

The term myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) is still commonly used; Myalgia – is muscle pain, and encephalomyelitis refers to inflammation and dysfunction of the brain and spinal cord. Whilst this may be accurate in some cases, ME is now considered to be too specific to cover the range of symptoms experienced.

CFS can affect people of all ages, twice as many women as men, and all social classes equally. Once dismissed as being ‘all in the mind’ or ‘yuppie flu’, CFS has only recently been recognized as a distinct, potentially chronic, and disabling neurological condition by the medical community.

Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The main symptom of CFS is profound and continued fatigue and exhaustion which does not go away with sleep or rest. Initially influenza symptoms may also occur and worsen.

Other symptoms vary but usually include at least four of the following:

  • muscle and joint pain
  • mental fogginess, poor short-term memory and concentration
  • painful lymph nodes
  • stomach pain
  • sore throat
  • severe headache
  • insomnia and sleep disturbance
  • sensitivity to light.

Causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

CFS is a complex condition and there is, as yet, no agreement upon any one specific cause. However, it appears that a variety of physical and psychological factors can cause, maintain and change the condition and that there are a number of triggers associated with the onset of CFS.

Some of the main predisposing factors are thought to be:

  • inherited genetic susceptibility
  • altered immune response due possibly to infections such as glandular fever or hepatitis!neurotoxins
  • exhaustion and mental stress!viral infection
  • immunization
  • traumatic or highly stressful incidents.

CFS is likely to be perpetuated by the following factors:

  • persistent viral or chronic bacterial infections
  • over or under-activity, too much or not enough rest, physical de-conditioning
  • stressful situations
  • poor diet
  • social isolation, demoralization, frustration, depression!
  • environmental pollution, exposure to chemicals
  • stressful situations may bring on attacks.

Diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

There is no specific diagnostic test for ME. Clinical history, physical examination, blood tests, scans, and interview may reveal other causes of prolonged fatigue and rule out CFS.

CFS is suspected if there has been serious fatigue without identifiable cause, combined with four or more other CFS symptoms over a six month period.

Treatment of Chronic Fatigue

There is no accepted drug or behavioral treatment for CFS. Treatments which may help relieve particular symptoms for some people may prove ineffective or counterproductive in others. Early diagnosis, pacing rest with activity, targeted drugs to control certain symptoms and self-help measures may aid recovery.

Common treatments include:

  • some antidepressants (prozac) for fatigue with depression
  • other drugs for specific symptoms (muscle pain)
  • graded exercise (graded activity) program
  • low dose anti-depressants (or herbal such as St. John�s Wort)
  • painkillers
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) benefits physical functioning
  • complementary therapies such as osteopathy, nutritional therapy, and homeopathy may help.

Self-help measures include:

  • avoiding stressful situations
  • moderate exercising
  • avoiding alcohol, caffeine, sugar and sweeteners
  • avoid any other food and drinks that you are sensitive to, eat regular meals, foods in moderation
  • rest and pacing
  • relaxation
  • be aware of fluctuating energy levels.

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