Chronic fatigue syndrome [CFS] is a complicated disorder characterised by extreme fatigue that doesn’t improve with bed rest and may worsen with physical or mental activity. CFS may occur after an infection, such as a cold or viral illness. The onset can be during or shortly after a time of great stress. CFS can also come on gradually without a clear starting point or obvious cause. In addition to these key defining characteristics, patients report various non-specific symptoms, including weakness, muscle pain, impaired memory and/or mental concentration, insomnia, and post-exertional fatigue lasting more than 24 hours. In some cases, CFS can persist for years.
Women are diagnosed with CFS far more often than men. However, it’s unclear whether chronic fatigue syndrome affects women more frequently or if women report it more often than men. CFS is most common in people in their 40s and 50s, but it can affect people of all ages.
It has several other names like vapours, neurasthenia, effort syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome, chronic monodies and post viral fatigue syndrome.
It is characterised by:
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Sore throat
- Swelling of the tender lymph node
- Muscle and joint pain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Psychiatric problems
- Abdominal cramps
- Weight loss
- Chest pain, weight gain, rash, night sweats [rare symptoms].
Of all chronic illnesses, chronic fatigue syndrome is one of the most mysterious. Unlike definite infections, it has no clear cause. Several possible causes have been proposed, including:
- Iron deficiency anaemia
- Low blood sugar [hypoglycaemia]
- History of allergies
- Virus infection, such as Epstein-Barr virus or human herpes virus 6
- Dysfunction of the immune system
- Changes in the levels of hormones produced in the hypothalamus, pituitary glands or adrenal glands
- Mild, chronic low blood pressure [hypotension]
Fatigue can be a symptom of many illnesses, such as infections or psychological disorders. In general, see your doctor if you have persistent or excessive fatigue.
Severe fatigue that prevents you from fully participating in activities at home, work or school may be a symptom of an underlying medical problem.
Possible complications of CFS are:
- Depression, related both to symptoms and lack of diagnosis
- Side-effects and adverse reactions related to medication treatments
- Side-effects and adverse reactions associated with lack of activity [de-conditioning]
- Social isolation caused by fatigue
- Lifestyle restrictions
- Missing work.
There is no specific for CFS and treatment generally aims to relieve symptoms.
- Slow down and avoid excessive physical and psychological stress. Your goal should be to maintain a moderate level of daily activity and gently increase your stamina over time.
- Through cognitive behaviour therapy, a mental health professional helps identify negative beliefs and behaviours that might be delaying your recovery and replace them with healthy, positive ones.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs alleviate headache, diffuse pain and feverishness.
- Anti-allergic and decongestant take care of allergic [cold] rhinitis and sinusitis.
Thus, a comprehensive approach to physical, psychological and social aspects of wellbeing is most useful.
Learning to manage fatigue can help improve your level of functioning and your quality of life despite symptoms.
Reduce stress. Develop a plan to avoid or limit overexertion and emotional stress. Allow yourself time each day to relax.
Get enough sleep. In addition to allotting enough time for sleep, practice good sleep habits, such as going to bed and getting up at the same time each day and limiting daytime napping.
Exercise regularly. Exercises such as walking, swimming, cycling, biking, water aerobics, stretching, and relaxation help in CFS.
Pace yourself. Keep your activity on an even level. If you do too much on your good days, you may have more bad days.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Try to eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of fluids, limit your caffeine intake, stop smoking, get adequate rest and exercise regularly. Find a hobby or career that’s enjoyable and fulfilling for you.
This was first published in the February 2009 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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