Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a state of profound fatigue lasting six months or longer that is not improved by bed rest and that may get worse with physical or mental activity. The fatigue significantly interferes with daily activities and work.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Causes

The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is uncertain. It is currently thought that CFS may have multiple triggers. Some of them might be infections, immune dysfunction, abnormally low blood pressure that can cause fainting, nutritional deficiency, and stress that activates the body’s central stress response system (the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal axis, or HPA axis).

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms

The signs are similar to flu-like symptoms: general weakness, exhaustion, achy muscles and joints, tender lymph nodes, low grade fever, headache, dizziness and difficulty sleeping. Problems with memory and concentration are also common. The overall feeling of being sick all the time leads to reduced involvement in daily activities.

Many people with chronic fatigue syndrome may experience other symptoms, including irritable bowel; depression or other psychological problems; chills and night sweats; visual disturbances; inability to think clearly; difficulty maintaining upright position; dizziness and balance problems; fainting; and allergies or sensitivities to foods, odors, chemicals, medications or noise.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Diagnosis

There are no tests or exams to diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome. Instead, a doctor must first rule out other, possibly treatable, conditions that share the same symptoms. First, a doctor will take a detailed patient history, followed by a thorough physical and mental health exam. Next, a series of laboratory screening tests will be done to help identify or rule out other possible causes of symptoms.

To be diagnosed with CSF, four or more of these eight symptoms must be present at the same time:

  • After exercise or work, malaise that lasts longer than 24 hours
  • Feeling tired after a good-night sleep
  • Noticeable worsening of short-term memory or concentration
  • Muscle pain
  • Pain in the joints without swelling or redness
  • New, unusual headaches
  • Swelling of lymph nodes in the neck or armpit
  • Repeated sore throat

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Treatment

There is no cure, and no prescription medications have been developed specifically for chronic fatigue syndrome. The main goal of CSF treatment is relief from symptoms. Therefore, successful management of CSF requires team work between the patients and their health care team, which may include rehabilitation specialists, mental health professionals, and physical or exercise therapists. An individualized treatment program that best meets the needs of the patient will combines therapies to address the symptoms, teach coping techniques and manage daily activities.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Self Care

Living with chronic fatigue syndrome may not be easy, and major lifestyle adjustments may be necessary. Feelings like anger, guilt, anxiety and loneliness are common. Unresolved emotions and stress can worsen the symptoms and make recovery harder. Support groups or a licensed psychotherapist may help with self-management and coping.

Good nutrition and regular physical activity, within limits, are important and can help with long-term symptom relief.