Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a debilitating illness that is characterized by extreme tiredness even after getting a full night of sleep. Though it affects more than two million people in the United States alone, the syndrome is still not well-understood by the medical community, which can make a diagnosis and subsequent treatment very difficult. More research is being done on the condition and revealing possible causes as well as more effective treatments, which is good news for those who suffer from this incredibly disruptive and frustrating ailment.
Chronic Fatigue Causes
Although it remains speculation at this point, researchers believe the causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (or CFS) could be a genetic predisposition or that CFS is the end stage of multiple diseases instead of a condition on its own. Most researchers, however, believe it is caused by one or more of the following:
- Viral infection – Many people develop CFS after a viral infection such as Epstein-Barr virus, human herpes virus, or others that target the nervous system. Though there is no conclusive link that establishes a cause and effect, anecdotal evidence seems to suggest there is a connection.
- Weakened immune system – An impaired immune system can be a precursor to many diseases and conditions and it seems to play a factor in CFS as well. However, it’s unclear whether CFS itself weakens the immune system or whether an impaired immune system is enough to cause the disorder on its own.
- Hormonal imbalance – Those with CFS often have abnormal amounts of hormones produced by the adrenal glands, pituitary glands, or hypothalamus. Again, researchers are unsure whether the hormonal imbalances are caused by CFS or whether they were present previously and predisposed the sufferer to develop the syndrome.
A combination of these risk factors is often associated with developing the syndrome, though there are cases where an individual has symptoms of CFS with none of these risk factors.
Chronic Fatigue Symptoms
The most frequently experienced symptom of CFS is an overwhelming fatigue that does not get better even after a good night of sleep. Those with chronic fatigue often have trouble completing normal everyday tasks such as going to work or school, taking care of their family, or socializing with friends.
In addition to being tired all the time, other symptoms of CFS may include insomnia, frequent headaches, loss of memory, frequent sore throat, tender or swollen lymph nodes, and muscle pain. The symptoms are often quite similar to those of related diseases such as fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis, which can complicate the diagnosis process and even result in misdiagnosis.
Could it Just Be Stress?
Those with CFS symptoms often believe they are just suffering from intense stress reactions and avoid getting a diagnosis because they think the stress will ease and their condition will improve. Feeling tired and having headaches and concentration problems can certainly be attributed to stress, but if symptoms are affecting your daily life for a long period of time, it’s likely something more serious. In most cases, CFS will be diagnosed if extreme fatigue affects an individual for six months or longer without relief.
According to some research, prolonged stress is even thought to lead to CFS, so it’s imperative to practice stress management or to see a counselor or therapist if you believe stress is negatively impacting your life.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Treatment
Treatment for CFS is very individualized as each case is unique. There is no tried and true treatment for chronic fatigue and, as of today, there is no cure. However, there are treatments that can help an individual deal with the symptoms and get back to living a fuller and more active life. These include:
- Relaxation techniques – Stress and CFS go hand in hand. Any relaxation techniques that help reduce stress will also reduce some of the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and massage will help the sufferer stay present, ease overthinking, and deal with everyday pressures that could be adding to their pain and exhaustion.
- Exercise – Many of those who are diagnosed with CFS perform little to no physical exercise because they are too tired or because they are afraid that exercise will lead to more pain and fatigue. Working with a professional who is familiar with the condition is imperative as they can create an interval exercise system that rebuilds muscle and mobility slowly without exacerbating the condition. Exercise is normally used in combination with therapy or medications to create a full treatment plan.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Therapy
Those who suffer CFS have probably heard it’s ‘all in their head’, which may make them avoid getting therapy. However, cognitive behavioral therapy can be very useful to treat the condition as it helps patients free themselves from destructive thoughts and helps them think differently about the syndrome and about their relationship with it. Therapy can lead to better coping strategies and less stress. When an individual with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is able to lower their stress levels, they almost always experience fewer CFS symptoms.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Medications
There are no medications that can cure CFS, but there are some that can be used to provide symptom relief. Most doctors will begin a medication regimen with over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen to relieve muscle aches, joint pain, and headaches.
The next step is to look into prescription medications like Lyrica, which can relieve nerve pain and improve sleep, and stimulants that can increase alertness and temporarily provide a break from fatigue. Thyroid medications and antidepressants may also be a part of the treatment plan depending on the individual’s history and symptoms.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a debilitating condition that affects millions of Americans. Due to its lack of understanding in the medical community, CFS is often misdiagnosed or its sufferers are not taken seriously, which only adds to the pain and frustration they are already experiencing. If you have CFS symptoms, it’s important for you to know you’re not alone and that there is help available. Please reach out to one of our knowledgeable CFS doctors if you have any questions about the disease or if you would like to schedule an appointment.