Understanding What Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Is
It’s not just being tired, it’s not something a good night’s sleep with magically repair, and it’s not comfortable, beneficial, or positive in any way. It’s chronic fatigue syndrome, and it is debilitating.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a medical condition affecting many and understood by few. People may mistakenly think they have the syndrome because they are occasionally tired, and others with the condition may be unaware of their diagnosis and treatment options.
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What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)?
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complicated and multifaceted illness impacting more than 1 million people in the U.S. marked by periods of extreme tiredness and exhaustion lasting for at least six months (and three months for children and adolescents). The draining condition may also be referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or ME/CFS.
CFS is devastating to many because the fatigue is so great that doing normal activities feel like monumental tasks. Even simple routines like getting out of bed, getting dressed, and bathing are impossible.
Children, adolescents, and adults are all at risk of CFS, but children have the condition at very low rates. Adult women are diagnosed at a rate four times higher than men, making them the most commonly affected group.
What Are the Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
CFS is known to produce a number of unwanted physical symptoms like:
- Feeling very tired for more than 24 hours after even mild physical or mental activity
- Problems falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up feeling rested and refreshed
- Difficulty sustaining mental focus, memory, and attention
- Frequent dizziness from getting up too quickly
- Aches and pains in the:
- Lymph nodes
- A sore throat that often appears and fades
- Visual disturbances
- Chills and increased perspiration
- Numbness and tingling
- New food allergies and sensitivities
Not only can CFS affect your physical health, but it can influence your mental health as well. People with the condition may face:
- Frequent mood swings
- Increased irritability
- Higher anxiety levels and panic attacks
Diagnosing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Because the symptoms of CFS cover such a wide range, it can be challenging for medical professionals to identify and diagnose the condition accurately. They might blame your symptoms on a medication side effect or mental health issue. Many times, people may mistakenly be diagnosed with mental health disorders like depression and anxiety instead of CFS early in treatment.
To diagnose your condition, an expert will:
- Gather your medical/mental history.
- Complete a thorough physical with lab work to check for other conditions and causes.
- Compare your results to others with CFS.
- Monitor your symptoms over time.
The CFS diagnosis cannot happen overnight, so your patience will be tested. Be sure to consistently follow through with your doctor’s orders for the best chance of proper diagnosis.
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Chronic Fatigue Prevention and Causes
Unfortunately, there are no known ways to prevent CFS because no one knows what exactly causes CFS. Much of the condition is a mystery.
Some people noted their CFS symptoms beginning after another illness like the flu, a cold, a stomach virus, the virus that causes mono, or another type of infection. Others report CFS symptoms triggered by a period of high physical stress, like after an accident or surgical procedure.
Treating Chronic Fatigue
The causes are not the only mystery of CFS. Currently, the cure is also unknown.
There are no medications approved for chronic fatigue syndrome, so anything your doctor prescribes may not fully address your condition. Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs may target some symptoms of CFS to improve your overall well-being.
Treatment may focus on:
- Improving sleep by practicing good bedtime habits and routines called sleep hygiene.
- Lowering pain levels through a combination of pain-relieving medications.
- Lessening dizziness by targeting blood pressure or other cardiac issues with a specialist.
- Boosting concentration and attention with strategies like lists, calendars, and electronic reminders.
Complementary and alternative treatments are available to manage symptoms of CFS, but none have been proven effective yet. Be sure to consult with your doctor before starting any new treatments.
Treating the Mental Health Impact
Since CFS leaves such a powerful influence on your overall well-being, it is essential to treat the mental health as well as the physical health. Appointments with a mental health specialist like a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor can:
- Help identify the ways chronic fatigue is affecting your life.
- Offer a safe place to express your thoughts and feelings.
- Improve your communication skills to discuss your struggles with others.
- Provide coping skills to manage the unwanted effects of stress, depression, and anxiety.
- Aid your ability to move through the grief and loss process that is common with chronic medical conditions.
Another strength of mental health therapy is improving your self-monitoring skills. Self-monitoring is the ability to pay attention to your body.
Often, people with CFS find themselves in a “push and crash” cycle where they push themselves too far or too hard one day and crash the next. Self-monitoring can provide the ability to detect and avoid situations where you may be pushing too much, so there is more energy left for later.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a condition that affects you entirely. Make sure your treatments are well-rounded to produce the best results for your health.