Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

I never heard of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) until I watched an episode of The Golden Girls.  Dorothy had it but before she found out what it was, none of the doctors she saw were able to tell her what she was suffering from.  It was  very scary experience for her–not knowing what she had and when she finally did, she was relieved.  At last the mysterious ailment had a name. 

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?  It is a severe, continued tiredness that is not relieved by rest and is not directly caused by other medical conditions.  It was believed that CFS affected only the highly educated young adults or professionals but it is now known that it affects people of all ages and from all walks of life.  People with CFS experience persistent tiredness so severe that it could prevent them from working, exercising, and enjoying life.  Dorothy was finding it difficult to teach her class.  She couldn’t speak.  She mentioned to the doctor that she was having palpitations.  She was scared because she knew that something was wrong with her but everyone kept telling her that she just needed to rest. 

Women are four times as likely as men to develop CFS. The illness occurs most often in people ages 40 – 59.  However, people of all ages can get it.  People who are overweight and inactive are more likely to develop CFS. Stress may also be a factor.

It seems that CFS is a poorly understood condition and there is no clear consensus about its diagnosis and treatment.  The doctor who diagnosed Dorothy with CFS said that a lot of times doctors don’t know enough about this condition to properly diagnose it.  I got the impression that some of them don’t take it seriously.   

What causes it?  Scientists don’t know what causes CFS.  It may be a combination of factors that affect people who were born with a predisposition for the disorder.  Other factors that were studied include:

  • Viral infections. Because some people develop chronic fatigue syndrome after having a viral infection, researchers have wondered if some viruses might trigger the disorder. Suspicious viruses have included Epstein-Barr, human herpesvirus 6 and mouse leukemia viruses. No conclusive link has yet been found.
  • Immune system problems. The immune systems of people who have chronic fatigue syndrome appear to be impaired slightly, but it’s unclear if this impairment is enough to actually cause the disorder.
  • Hormonal imbalances. People who have chronic fatigue syndrome also sometimes experience abnormal blood levels of hormones produced in the hypothalamus, pituitary gland or adrenal glands. But the significance of these abnormalities is still unknown.

Since extreme tiredness is a common symptom of many illnesses, it can be hard to determine if a person has CFS . Also, some medical treatments, such as chemotherapy, can cause extreme tiredness.

What are the symptoms?  At first, it may feel as if you have the flu. In addition to experiencing extreme tiredness and weakness, main CFS symptoms include:

  • Feeling very tired for more than a day (24 hours) after physical or mental exercise
  • Forgetting things or having a hard time focusing
  • Feeling tired even after sleeping
  • Muscle pain or aches
  • Pain or aches in joints without swelling or redness
  • Headaches of a new type, pattern, or strength
  • Tender lymph nodes in the neck or under the arm
  • Sore throat

The symptoms above are the main signs of CFS.  Other symptoms may also include:

  • Visual disturbances (blurring, sensitivity to light, eye pain)
  • Psychological symptoms (irritability, mood swings, panic attacks, anxiety)
  • Chills and night sweats
  • Low grade fever or low body temperature
  • Irritable bowel
  • Allergies and sensitivities to foods, odors, chemicals, medications, and noise/sound
  • Numbness, tingling, or burning sensations in the face, hands, or feet
  • Difficulty sitting or standing straight up, dizziness, balance problems, and fainting

Symptoms of CFS vary widely from person to person and may be serious or mild. Most symptoms cannot be seen by others, which makes it hard for friends, family members, and the public to understand the challenges a person with CFS faces.  Dorothy was persistent and it paid off.  If you suspect that you may have CFS, don’t be discouraged.   Seek help. 

Is there a treatment for CFS? There’s no specific treatment for it. In general, doctors aim to relieve symptoms by using a combination of treatments, which may include: changes in lifestyle; treatment of existing pain; treatment of allergy; treatment of low blood pressure.

The best ways to prevent Chronic fatigue syndrome are to avoid smoking and caffeine; drink lots of water; reduce the stress level; exercise; maintain a healthy diet which includes fresh fruits and vegetables.

If you are feeling alone or need some encouragement, there are chronic fatigue stories which can help you connect to others who are going through the same thing you are.  Check out these stories at the following link:  http://www.chronic-fatigue-community.com/chronic-fatigue-stories.html

Sources:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002224/; http://bodyandhealth.canada.com/channel_condition_info_details.asp?disease_id=32&channel_id=1044&relation_id=26330; http://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/chronic-fatigue-syndrome.cfm#b; http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/chronic-fatigue-syndrome/DS00395/DSECTION=causes; http://www.women-health-care.org/healtha-z/chronic-fatigue-syndrome.htm

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