Everyone gets tired. Whether from a long day of hard physical labor or prolonged periods staring at a computer and crunching numbers, your body will eventually send signals that it is beat and needs a rest. However, there are situations where a person constantly feels tired and cannot identify the cause of this tiredness. This abnormal condition is known as Chronic fatigue syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a widely misunderstood disease and is often confused with other illnesses. In this piece, we look at what chronic fatigue syndrome is, its symptoms and causes, and how it can be diagnosed and treated.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, is a complex ailment marked by excessive exhaustion that lasts for at least six months. The tiredness cannot be explained by an underlying medical condition, intensifies upon physical or mental exertion and does not get better with rest.
The symptoms and severity of CFS vary in people affected. CFS affects the nervous system, immune system, and the body’s ability to produce energy. Contrary to popular misconception, chronic fatigue syndrome is not a mental condition and is not caused by a lack of exercise. Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by difficulties with concentration, focus, and memory, dizziness that worsens when lying down, sitting or standing, unrefreshing sleep, etc. Often, a correct diagnosis of CFS is difficult to make as patients present with similar symptoms of other diseases.
Although the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is still unknown, many patients first experience its symptoms after a viral infection, surgery or physical trauma, or a change in hormonal state. A single test cannot verify the diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. You might require several medical tests to rule out other health issues with similar symptoms.
The illness is often misunderstood and might not be taken seriously by some healthcare providers. The goal of treatment for myalgic encephalomyelitis is to reduce symptoms.
Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
People with chronic fatigue syndrome may experience different symptoms, and their intensity may change throughout the day. Characteristic symptoms of ME include pain, difficulty sleeping or thinking, sore throat, headaches, and increased dizziness, and simple activities like eating or reading an email can trigger post-exertional malaise.
Signs and symptoms of CFS may include:
- Severe fatigue worsened by physical or mental activity
- Problems with memory or concentration
- Enlarged or tender lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
- Extreme exhaustion
- Post-exertional malaise (a worsening of any or all symptoms after small amounts of mental or physical activity)
- Confusion and slowed thinking (often referred to as “brain fog”)
- Non-restorative sleep or feeling unrefreshed after sleeping
- Dizziness/lightheadedness, racing heart, and other symptoms of orthostatic intolerance
- Sore throat
- Unexplained Muscle and joint pain
- Sensitivities to light, sound, and chemicals
- Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS, increased heart rate upon standing)
- Difficulty regulating body temperature or feeling overheated or chilled
- Extreme thirst
- Gastrointestinal disturbances, such as nausea, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation
All chronic illnesses have significant medical, psychological, and social components. However, the physical symptoms of CFS differ greatly from those of depression and can help to differentiate between the two. People with ME may appear in good physical health, and routine blood tests requested by healthcare professionals typically reveal nothing abnormal. However, that does not imply that they are not ill. Children with ME may not be able to attend school or may need a lot of assistance with their academics, and most people with ME are unable to work, whether as full-time or part-time workers. People with ME who are badly affected require 24 hours of care and support.
Anyone can have chronic fatigue syndrome. ME is more prevalent in women than men and affects persons of all ages, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Since most healthcare professionals do not recognize ME, it is challenging to pinpoint its exact presence.
Causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
There is still no established etiology for myalgic encephalomyelitis (chronic fatigue syndrome). A tendency for the condition in some persons may be present at birth, triggered by some events.
In persons with no genetic link, CFS may be caused by;
- Viral Infections: Researchers speculate whether some viruses could induce chronic fatigue syndrome as some people experience the condition after contracting a viral infection. Epstein-Barr and human herpes virus 6 are examples of suspect viruses. There is currently no clear connection between the two.
- Immune System Problems: People with chronic fatigue syndrome seem to have mildly compromised immune systems, but it’s not clear if this is enough to cause the condition.
- Hormonal Imbalances: Hormone levels in the blood produced by the brain, pituitary glands, or adrenal glands can occasionally be abnormal in people with chronic fatigue syndrome. But it’s not yet clear what these anomalies mean.
- Physical or Emotional Trauma: Some persons claim that right before their symptoms appeared, they had an injury, undergone surgery, or undergone substantial emotional stress.
Risk Factors of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Your chance of developing chronic fatigue syndrome may be worsened by the following factors:
- Age: Although chronic fatigue syndrome can affect anyone at any age, it most frequently strikes young to middle-aged adults.
- Sex: Women are diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome considerably more frequently than males. However, it is likely that women may be just more likely to disclose their symptoms to a doctor.
Complications Associated with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome may result in the following complications:
- Lifestyle restrictions
- Increased work absences
- Social isolation
Many ailments, including infections and mental health issues, can manifest as fatigue. Generally, if you experience extreme or recurring tiredness, visit a doctor. A single test cannot make an accurate diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. A doctor will ask you about your medical history and give you a physical examination. They may also ask you to take tests like blood tests or urine tests to rule out other conditions. Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome worsen with physical or mental activity and are similar to some other medical conditions, such as:
- Sleep Problems: Sleep issues can lead to chronic weariness. A sleep study can establish whether conditions like obstructive sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, or insomnia are interfering with your ability to sleep.
- Health Issues: Many medical diseases, including anemia, diabetes, and an underactive thyroid, have fatigue as a prevalent symptom (hypothyroidism). Your blood can be tested in a lab to see if any top suspects’ evidence is present.
- Mental Health Problems: Some mental health conditions, including sadness and anxiety, can manifest as fatigue. If one of these issues is the root of your exhaustion, a counselor can assist in identifying it.
In addition, it’s typical for those with chronic fatigue syndrome to also be dealing with sleep issues, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression, or anxiety. There are so many symptoms that share between fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome that some researchers believe the two conditions to be distinct manifestations of the same illness.
The following are the definitions of the fatigue linked to chronic fatigue syndrome according to US Institute of Medicine recommendations:
- The fatigue is new or definite beginning (not lifelong);
- It is not much improved by rest;
- It is worsened by physical, mental, or emotional activity;
- It is severe, and it impedes the capacity to engage in pre-illness activities
A person would also need to suffer at least one of these two symptoms to satisfy the diagnostic requirements for chronic fatigue syndrome established by the Institute of Medicine:
- Memory, concentration, and focus issues
- Dizziness that gets worse when you stand up from sitting or lying down
The new criteria require substantial impairment in function accompanied by fatigue, PEM, unrefreshing sleep, and either cognitive impairment or orthostatic intolerance. At least half the time, these symptoms must be present and persist for at least six months with moderate, substantial, or severe intensity.
Treatments of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
So far, chronic fatigue has no known treatment and current therapies seek to alleviate symptoms.. It is best to start by treating the most distressing or incapacitating symptoms. The symptoms of chronic tiredness syndrome can be treated with medications or/and psychotherapy, depending on their severity.
Medication can help with some chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms, whether prescribed or over-the-counter. Examples include:
- Depression: Many individuals with chronic health conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome also experience depression. You might find it less difficult to deal with the issues caused by chronic fatigue syndrome if you get help for your depression. Some antidepressants can also reduce pain and promote better sleep when used in low dosages.
- Intolerance to Orthostatics: Adolescents with chronic fatigue syndrome are more susceptible to experiencing dizziness or nausea when standing or sitting upright. Drugs that control cardiac rhythm or blood pressure may be beneficial.
- Pain: You can use over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve), or prescription drugs used in treating fibromyalgia might be options for you. These include pregabalin (Lyrica), duloxetine (Cymbalta), amitriptyline, or gabapentin (Neurontin).
Therapy can help people with chronic fatigue syndrome and help improve its symptoms. Patients can benefit from:
- Counseling: Speaking with a counselor can help you overcome constraints at work or school, develop coping mechanisms for dealing with chronic disease, and enhance family relationships. Additionally, it can aid with depression management.
- Addressing Sleep-Related Issues: Other symptoms may be more challenging to manage when sleep-deprived. Your doctor may advise caffeine abstinence or a change in your bedtime regimen. Sleep apnea can be treated by employing a gadget that distributes air pressure through a mask while you sleep.
- Exercise: While engaging in tolerable activities is crucial to avoid deconditioning, aggressive exercise programs can worsen symptoms. The long-term function may be improved with exercise routines that begin with extremely low intensity and progressively increase over time.
The recommendations to use CBT and GET to treat ME have caused more harm than good for people with ME and have been eliminated from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Currently, there are no FDA-approved treatments specifically for ME. Among suggested treatments are “pacing,” which can help people with ME avoid crashes by matching their level of activity to their limited amount of available energy; use of sleep aids and medications
Chronic fatigue syndrome is marked by extreme weariness, irregular sleep patterns, pain, and other symptoms exacerbated by physical activity. It affects women more frequently than males, and although there is no established cause, environmental or genetic factors may play a role. This disorder has no known causes or recognized treatments. Some symptoms, though, can be managed or treated to provide relief. If you feel any of the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, you should visit a doctor immediately to seek medical attention.