Chronic fatigue syndrome

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Explained

What is chronic fatigue syndrome? Many of us feel tired at some point during the day. For those that suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, however, this is the norm rather than the exception.

  • This is a complicated medical condition that involves being extremely tired for a long period, usually more than 6 months.
  • There is no underlying medical cause that may be involved and it doesn’t get better with rest.

It is also sometimes called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID).

It’s believed that approximately 1 million people in the USA alone could be suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome at any one time, with around a quarter having a very serious condition.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms

The symptoms of this condition can vary from person to person. The most common symptom is, of course, extreme tiredness and this can fluctuate from day to day and even from hour to hour.

Other symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome include an inability to concentrate for long periods, loss of memory, headaches, muscle and joint pain that seems to have no cause, dizziness and swelling of the lymph nodes around the neck and shoulders.

Individuals may experience extreme fatigue after just a few minutes exercise and normally find that their sleep is disrupted and they rarely wake feeling refreshed.

Causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The exact cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is still not properly understood. There may be some people who have a genetic predisposition that means they are more likely to get the syndrome. Others may develop chronic fatigue after a medical event or illness.

There could be some viruses, for instance, that trigger chronic fatigue syndrome. Among the most notable suspects are human herpes 6 and the Epstein-Barr virus. There is also a suggestion that many people with the syndrome have a compromised immune system that makes them more susceptible to illness.

In other cases, the syndrome can develop in cases where the affected individual has a hormonal balance. It has also been identified in patients who have had trauma, either physical or emotional, in the recent past.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Risk Factors

There are a number of factors that mean an individual may be at a higher risk of developing chronic fatigue syndrome compared with others in the population. The condition seems to affect women a lot more than men but this could, at least in part, be due to them being more likely to report symptom to their physician.

Age is also a factor. While it can occur at any age, the vast majority of those who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome are young to middle-aged.

Research also suggests that those who maintain a sedentary lifestyle could be more at risk of developing chronic fatigue syndrome.

Diagnosing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

There are challenges in diagnosing the chronic fatigue syndrome. Estimates suggest that more than 80% of people may struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome without seeking any medical support at all.

woman suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome

If an individual does consult a physician, part of the diagnostic process is to rule out other potential illnesses. That’s why the syndrome is often called a condition that has no medical basis, though this is misleading.

Certain conditions that share the symptoms associated with chronic fatigue syndrome include multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease, sleep disorders and hypothyroidism. Fatigue can also be a symptom of lifestyle issues such as obesity.

Treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

There is no known cure for chronic fatigue syndrome and most of the treatment is centered around managing the symptoms.

Someone who suffers from extreme fatigue after physical activity, for example, can manage their activity and pace themselves better to reduce the chance of an attack. Making lifestyle changes can also benefit individuals. This could include cutting out caffeine, switching to a healthier diet or losing weight.

Medication is only given if all other approaches have failed and to help with specific symptoms.

  • If an individual is feeling depressed, for example, they may benefit from anti-depressants.
  • If someone has trouble sleeping, medication might provide a good night’s rest.

Sore joints and muscles can also potentially be managed with pain-relieving medications.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a very individual condition and what works for one person may not for another. It’s important to investigate all the possibilities. For example, alternative approaches such as yoga, t’ai chi, acupuncture or massage may alleviate symptoms for some people.

With only 5% of individuals recovering, chronic fatigue syndrome can be challenging to deal with. In severe cases, it can have a huge impact on the quality of life and even lead to states of depression and anxiety.

Working with a healthcare team who understand the individual’s condition and can provide support is essential. In some cases, making positive lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthier diet and undertaking regular exercise can make a big difference.