What you should know about chronic fatigue syndrome.
It’s a disease shrouded in mystery. The cause, the diagnosis, and the treatment are complex, complicated, and confusing to medical professionals and patients alike. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID) or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is often abbreviated as ME/CFS. This serious, chronic disease affects multiple body systems. Many who live with ME/CFS are confined to their beds, unable to find the energy necessary to live a normal life. Even a small amount of activity makes their fatigue worse and rest doesn’t help them regain the energy they need.
Odd as the condition sounds, it’s estimated that millions of people have ME/CFS but haven’t yet been diagnosed. What are the symptoms of this debilitating disease and what causes it? Is there any form of treatment? Look below to find out.
A Range of Symptoms
To be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, you must have three core symptoms: a reduced ability to perform normal activities due to fatigue that has lasted for at least six months, a worsening of symptoms following physical or mental activity, and difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep at night.
The fatigue aspect of ME/CFS causes the sufferer more than just feelings of tiredness. It’s a severe fatigue that’s not improved by rest or sleep and isn’t the result of excessive exertion. Unlike other causes of fatigue, the lack of energy is a new problem, not something that has been a life-long struggle or caused by other underlying conditions.
Additional symptoms of ME/CFS include headache, dizziness, sore throat, sleep troubles, foggy thinking, muscle aches, joint pain, tender lymph nodes, digestive issues, night sweats, chills, allergies, and sensitivities. Known as a crash, collapse, or relapse, these symptoms may worsen for days, weeks, or months following exertion. The symptoms are known to be unpredictable, range in severity, and come and go. As a result, those with the condition are often not believed regarding their symptoms.
How It’s Diagnosed
Fatigue is a common complaint for many. Multiple other health conditions such as diabetes, depression, infections, anemia, heart disease, sleep apnea, obesity, thyroid issues, and multiple sclerosis also list fatigue as a symptom. Since there’s not a test to diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome, diagnosis of the condition is a matter of elimination. This means numerous medical tests may be necessary to rule out other health conditions with similar symptoms.
What’s the Cause?
The cause of ME/CFS currently remains unknown. It’s suspected people with the condition have a genetic predisposition. When a virus, hormonal imbalance, unmanaged stress, or a problem with the immune system arises, the condition is triggered and sets in.
Anyone at any age can develop chronic fatigue syndrome, but it’s most often diagnosed in people in their 40s and 50s. The disease is also found to affect more women than men and whites suffer the condition more than other races.
Is There Treatment?
Though there’s no cure for ME/CFS, there are ways to manage some of the symptoms. Your doctor may refer you to a variety of specialists to help treat symptoms and improve your quality of life. The most debilitating symptoms should be addressed first.
To help manage the fatigue that’s worsened by activity, patients must learn to pace themselves and set limits. A fatigue diary can help you know how to set boundaries. Medications may be used to bring relief for sleep troubles, dizziness, headaches, muscle aches, and joint pain. Massage, acupuncture, or water therapy are other forms of pain management.
It’s important for people with chronic illness to realize they’re at an increased risk for depression, anxiety, and stress. In the event these affect you on top of chronic fatigue, seek medical intervention to determine if medication, therapy, deep-breathing techniques, massage, or stretching exercises such as tai chi or yoga would be beneficial.