Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is one of several names given to a poorly understood, variably debilitating disorder of uncertain causation. CFS is thought, based on a 1999 study, to affect approximately 4 per 1,000 adults in the United States. For unknown reasons, CFS occurs more often in women than men, and in people in their 40s and 50s. The illness is estimated to be less prevalent among children and adolescents, but studies are contradictory as to the degree.
Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome shares symptoms with many other disorders. Fatigue, for instance, is found in hundreds of illnesses, and 10% to 25% of all patients who visit general practitioners complain of prolonged fatigue. The nature of the symptoms, however, can help clinicians differentiate CFS from other illnesses.
Unlike flu symptoms, which usually go away in a few days or weeks, chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms either hang on or come and go frequently for more than six months. Chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms include:
Tender lymph nodes
Fatigue and weakness
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Causes
The cause of CFS is unknown, but the condition may be related to infection with effects on the immune system. Several viruses have been studied as possible causes of CFS, but no cause-and-effect relationship has been discovered. Some evidence indicates that the bacterium Chlamydia pneumoniae (which causes pneumonia and other illnesses) may be a cause of CFS in some cases.
The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome may be an inflammation of the pathways of the nervous system as a response to an autoimmune process, but with nothing measurable in the blood as in other autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Chronic fatigue syndrome may also occur when a viral illness is complicated by a dysfunctional immune system. Some people with CFS may have a low blood pressure disorder that triggers the fainting reflex.
Can it be prevented?
Since it’s not known what causes CFS, it’s difficult to prevent. There’s no evidence to support the view that CFS is a contagious disease and there’s no precise identified cause.
It’s believed that a person’s genes may make them more susceptible, and that viral infection, stress, depression, or a major life event (for example bereavement, job loss) may act as triggers for CFS to develop in susceptible individuals.
How is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome treated?
The principles of management for CFS are outlined below:
Planned, gradual return to physical activity – A mutually agreed and supervised programme of gradually increasing activity.
Identification and treatment of maintaining factors – Address dysfunctional beliefs and behaviours and treat mood and sleep disorders.
There are currently no FDA-approved prescription medications for use in treating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. There are, however, a number of medications that are used to treat the various symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Many are recommended for effects that may be unrelated to their primary use.
How can I help myself?
Keep a daily diary to identify times when you have the most energy. Plan your activities for these times.
Keep up some level of activity and exercise, within your abilities. Your doctor can help you plan an exercise program to maintain your strength at whatever level is possible.
Exercise can help your body and mind.