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More Than Just Tiredness: The Mystery of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By Carolyn Heneghan January 06, 2016 Posted in: Personal Health , Article

We all know the feeling: With so much to do, you just don't have time to sleep late or take a much-needed afternoon nap. Work and life responsibilities come first, and we push past our tiredness and get through the week as best we can. For some people, though, this feeling of constant fatigue is much more severe and disruptive to their daily lives. When this occurs, it can be a sign of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people suffering from CFS "have overwhelming fatigue and a host of other symptoms that are not improved by bed rest and that can get worse after physical activity or mental exertion." Two notable points make this condition tough to understand: its similarity in symptoms to many other conditions, and how to distinguish it from simple tiredness.

Do I Have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

According to the CDC, a person must meet three criteria to be diagnosed with CFS. The thoroughness of these qualifications underlines the trickiness of identifying -- and diagnosing someone with -- CFS. The first is experiencing severe chronic fatigue for six consecutive months or more; furthermore, the fatigue cannot be a result of ongoing exertion or other medical conditions associated with fatigue. The second is that the fatigue is significantly interfering with daily activities and work.

The last criterion revolves around a group of symptoms. If a person has four or more out of eight specific symptoms concurrently (with the caveat that they must have persisted or recurred for six months or more and also cannot have appeared before the fatigue), then he or she is potentially facing CFS. The group of eight symptoms, as designated by the CDC, are as follows:

  • Post-exertion malaise lasting more than 24 hours.
  • Unrefreshing sleep.
  • Significant impairment of short-term memory or concentration.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Pain in the joints without swelling or redness.
  • Headaches of a new type, pattern, or severity.
  • Tender lymph nodes in the neck or armpit.
  • A frequent or recurring sore throat.

Your doctor may need to run some tests to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms before reaching a final diagnosis. Many of these symptoms are common to a range of other illnesses, and even medications could cause them. Signs of CFS also tend to come in cycles, making it difficult for those experiencing symptoms to recognize what's happening.

What Causes CFS?

Researchers have not identified any particular causes of chronic fatigue syndrome, but there are a few correlations between certain conditions and the trigger or development of CFS, including:

  • Infections (such as mononucleosis, human herpesvirus 6, and HIV).
  • Immune-system disorders.
  • Abnormally low blood pressure and lightheadedness.
  • Stress.
  • Trauma.
  • Toxins.

Treatments for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Despite not knowing an exact cause or cure for CFS, you can still manage your symptoms with a treatment plan tailored to your needs. Be sure to closely monitor your symptoms and report any changes to your medical team so they can alter your treatments if necessary.

CFS symptom management usually starts with tackling those that are the most disruptive or disabling. Your doctor may also want to monitor any medication and supplements you take, keep track of your physical activity and exercise, and improve your health and quality of life with tactics such as cognitive behavioral therapy, support groups, and professional counseling.

Chronic fatigue syndrome can be a debilitating disease, but treatments will help you better manage the fatigue and various other symptoms. Speak with your doctor if fatigue is disrupting your way of life, especially if you cannot find any other explanation for your condition.

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