Chronic fatigue syndrome is more than just simple exhaustion- it makes you feel sluggish, cranky, and confused, even if you’ve had plenty of sleep and have no reason to feel so tired. Chronic fatigue occurs with illnesses like vitamin B12 deficiency, fibromyalgia, and celiac disease. So, is chronic fatigue syndrome just a symptom telling you that something’s not right, or is it a separate disease of its own?
What is chronic fatigue syndrome?
To quote the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is “a debilitating and complex disorder characterized by profound fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity.”
People with CFS wake up feeling tired, wiped out, as if they have just finished running in a marathon, even though they have not even gotten up from bed. Because CFS sometimes includes pain symptoms, people think it is similar to fibromyalgia. It’s not- Almost all people with fibromyalgia suffer from fatigue, but not all CFS sufferers experience chronic pain. (Read more about fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia- Is there a Difference?)
How is chronic fatigue syndrome diagnosed?
Determining CFS can be complicated, as there are currently no diagnostic tests available. Before a doctor can diagnose CFS, he has to use the process of elimination to exclude all other possible illnesses.
- The patient must have been suffering from chronic fatigue for longer than six months, despite having normal sleeping habits.
- The patient must not be suffering with any mental illness that has fatigue as a main symptom.
- The patient must have at least four of the qualifying symptoms for chronic fatigue syndrome.
What are the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome?
People with chronic fatigue syndrome suffer from mental and physical pain that interfere with daily life. For some, CFS means losing the ability to care for oneself or dependents, not having the energy to do simple tasks, and facing skepticism from friends, family, and other acquaintances who think it’s all “in your head.”
The following symptoms enable a physician to give a proper diagnosis of CFS:
- Short-term memory loss
- Frequent sore throat
- Muscular pain
- Unusual headaches
- Sore lymph nodes
- Joint pain where no inflammation is evident
- Fatigue that is not relieved by sleep
- Severe exhaustion following even minimal physical activity, requiring a full day’s recuperation
- Severe mental exhaustion following exams, or other mental exercises
Other symptoms that may occur with CFS but do not influence diagnoses include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Brain fog (confusion)
- Depression and anxiety
- Visual impairments
- Hypersensitivity to foods, scents, sounds, or light
- Difficulty maintaining balance
What causes chronic fatigue syndrome?
The exact cause of CFS is unknown, but scientists theorize the following possibilities:
- Virus infection
- Vitamin deficiency (such as vitamin B12 deficiency)
- Autoimmune disorder
- Hormonal imbalance
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
What are the best treatments for chronic fatigue?
The primary goal in treating patients with CFS is to provide relief from the debilitating symptoms, since there is no cure for the actual disease itself. Unfortunately, finding the right treatment is just as complicated as diagnosing it- it’s a long process that requires time, patience, and a willingness to try new strategies.
Here are some popular options for managing chronic fatigue syndrome:
- Vitamin B12 supplements
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)- psychotherapeutic counseling
- Graded Exercise Therapy (GET)- gradual physical exercise
- Alternative medicine- acupuncture, progressive relaxation, yoga, massage, and aquatic therapy
- Visiting a support group for CFS
- Treatments for orthostatic instability, the inability to remain in an upright position
Please tell us…
If you have chronic fatigue syndrome, do you also suffer from fibromyalgia? Have you had your vitamin B12 levels tested? Please feel free to share your opinions on this article.
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