Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Causes of extreme fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms.

Select a Topic

  1. What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
  2. Diagnosing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  3. What Causes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
  4. Help for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  5. More Information on CFS

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a somewhat mysterious disease in which the affected individual feels extreme fatigue over a prolonged period of time. While we are all familiar with the occasional day where we seem to lack energy, CFS is far more complex and severe.

Unlike usual fatigue, which is usually helped by a few nights of good sleep and proper nutrition, the feeling of exhaustion experienced in chronic fatigue syndrome does not disappear with rest and only seems to get worse over time.

Affected individuals often feel too tired to perform routine daily tasks, and things that once brought pleasure soon become an effort.

Chronic Fatigue is often compared to a long incurable hangover with common symptoms being profound weakness, inability to concentrate or focus, listlessness and aches and pain – and while a couple of aspirin and a good nights sleep will cure a hangover – people with CFS often suffer these symptoms with little relief.

Diagnosing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Unfortunately there are no blood tests or imaging scans that can diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome and it tends to be a diagnosis of exclusion.

What your health care practitioner is likely to do is obtain a detailed medical history, perform an extensive physical examination and run a number of tests to rule out other possible medical conditions.

If the fatigue and other accompanying symptoms persist over a 6 month period, are recurrent and debilitating; and do not improve with bed rest, then CFS may be diagnosed.

Because this condition can present vague symptoms which have no clear explanation many people with symptoms of CFS may go undiagnosed and may even be led to believe that their symptoms are psychological or that they are malingering. This can be devastating for a person who is already struggling to cope with the severe toll the illness has taken on their lives.

What are the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
  • Persistent or recurrent mental and physical fatigue that cannot be explained or relieved by rest
  • Extreme exhaustion following physical activity that may last up to 24 hours.
  • Poor sleep, insomnia or vivid dreams
  • Pain, including muscle and or joint pain, frequent headaches, abdominal pain, chest pain or non-localized nerve pain
  • Cold or Flu-like symptoms including sore throat, tender lymph nodes, and a general feeling of sickness.
  • Cognitive symptoms which may include confusion, memory loss or forgetfulness, mental fatigue or ‘brain fog’, and impaired concentration
  • Perceptual and sensory disturbances such as disorientation, clumsiness, photophobia or sensitivity to noise
  • Palpitations or arrhythmias
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness or feelings of dizziness
  • Changes in appetite (poor appetite or increased appetite) often resulting in weight-gain or weight-loss.
  • Poor temperature control

What Causes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

CFS is an illness that has baffled physicians and scientists for more than a century. While there is no definite identifiable cause of this disorder, some theories suggest that the syndrome may be related to a number of other medical conditions such as:

  • Anemia (low iron in blood)
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Environmental toxicity
  • Allergies
  • Candidiasis
  • Immune deficiency
  • Past viral infection

While the causes of CFS are generally unknown and a common topic of debate and contention amidst medical professionals, most physicians concur that the syndrome is not fictitious and does in fact exist.

Help for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Since there is no identifiable cause for chronic fatigue, and the physiology of the syndrome remains unknown, treatment often aims at relieving symptoms and teaching the patient to cope with the illness.

A holistic approach may incorporate moderate physical activity, dietary supplements and natural remedies to help you cope with the symptoms. Your physician may recommend or prescribe a drug treatment aimed at reducing specific symptoms such as pain, fatigue and anxiety.

Prescription drugs may include antidepressants, anti-inflammatory drugs, and stimulants such as modofanil (Provigil). Many CFS patients are particularly sensitive to medications (especially those related to the central nervous system) and the wrong medication or dosage has been known to aggravate symptoms.

More Information on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Tips for coping with Chronic Fatigue
  • Coping with CFS is not always easy and you will often find that some days are more difficult than others. Remember to look after both the physical and the emotional aspects that may arise when living with chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • Find a physician that you can trust and who accepts and respects your condition. If you decide to take a natural approach to health, then look for a physician who is familiar with natural and holistic treatments.
  • Even though exercise may be the last thing on your mind, a moderate amount of physical activity will help to reduce your symptoms. However, make sure you don’t over-do it and stick to gentle exercises that do not require over-exertion such as walking, swimming, yoga and Pilates.
  • Live a healthy life-style and adopt healthy habits in place of bad habits. This includes a healthy and nutritious diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep and rest, and properly managed stress levels.
  • Look after your emotional well-being. CFS is tough to live with and natural feelings of anger, frustration, and sadness can be expected. This is not always easy, so finding a support group or receiving some form of psychotherapy will help you better deal with these emotions.
  • Learn to read your body and monitor your symptoms - what tends to trigger them, and what techniques tend to help. Many people with CFS learn to manage their energy levels by using energy sparingly throughout the day. A few useful tips include sitting instead of standing, getting a handicap parking permit so you can park closer to entrances, and consider hiring help to do energy consuming tasks such as housework or cooking.
  • Schedule your day wisely incorporating plenty of time to rest. Make sure you coordinate your monthly, weekly and daily schedules in advance and keep these up to date so that you don’t suddenly find yourself overwhelmed with too much to do.
  • Maintain a balanced life. It’s a common problem for people with CFS to put all their energy into work and responsibilities thus ignoring their social lives and restricting time for fun. Keep time aside to spend with family and friends and, if necessary, choose activities that do not require much energy.
  • It is also important not to ignore your sexuality. Schedule sex for times when you feel at your best such as in the morning as opposed to at the end of a long day.
  • As the symptoms of CFS tend to come and go, people are often prone to squeezing in as many activities as possible when they have a ‘good stretch’. Try to pace yourself instead so as to prolong the good days, rather than using up all your energy and finding yourself facing relapse.
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