The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that people who have chronic fatigue syndrome have severe fatigue and sleep problems. It is a serious, long-term illness that affects several systems in the body. Chronic fatigue syndrome typically prevents or significantly hinders people from completing their daily activities because they are too tired, but rest does not improve their levels of energy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that people who have chronic fatigue syndrome have severe fatigue and sleep problems. It is a serious, long-term illness that affects several systems in the body. Chronic fatigue syndrome typically prevents or significantly hinders people from completing their daily activities because they are too tired, but rest does not improve their levels of energy. People can even struggle to simply get out of bed. CFS may also get worse with physical or mental activities, which is a symptom termed as post-exertional malaise (PEM).
Chronic fatigue syndrome is also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis and it can be abbreviated as ME/CFS. This illness is generally diagnosed when someone has been experiencing symptoms for at least six months and there is no other detectable underlying medical condition that the symptoms can be attributed to. An Institute of Medicine (IOM) report estimates that 836,000 to 2.5 million Americans have ME/CFS. Unfortunately, most of them have gone undiagnosed.
What Causes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
The exact causes of chronic fatigue syndrome are currently unknown. However, there are theories that include triggers such as viral infections, bacterial infections, problems with the immune system, hormonal imbalances, mental health problems (possibly stress or emotional trauma), or genetics (i.e. inheriting certain genes that predispose people). There are no laboratory tests that can diagnose ME/CFS and doctors have to diagnose based on symptoms and ruling out other medical conditions. ME/CFS does not affect anyone particular group of people, although women tend to be diagnosed more often than men. It is also most commonly seen in those ages 40 to 60 years old, but anyone of any age can develop chronic fatigue syndrome.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms
Since there is no official test for ME/CFS it can be very difficult to diagnose and doctors can only do a medical exam where they take a medical history, rule out other conditions, and look at all of the symptoms. The range of symptoms can vary per person, as well as the severity. There are three core symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome:
- Impaired ability to complete activities: CFS is much more than just being tired. This level of fatigue can be very severe and is marked by a drastic reduction in ability to do activities that were usual before the development of the illness. The fatigue is not improved by rest or sleep and is not caused by difficult activities. The drop-in activity must be occurring for at least six months and was not an issue before becoming ill, meaning it is not a life-long problem.
- Post-exertional malaise (PEM): When symptoms become worse due to physical or mental activities that were not an issue before the illness. PEM can cause problems with the ability to think, difficulty sleeping, sore throat, headaches, feeling dizzy, or severe tiredness. It might take an extended period of time to recover from these “crashes,” as people have described the experience, and people may become bedridden. For example, just the act of taking a shower can completely drain someone and leave them unable to do much or anything at all for several days.
- Sleep problems: Many people have difficulty with falling asleep or staying asleep. A common aspect of ME/CFS is that those afflicted will not feel rested and re-energized after sleeping.
These three core symptoms are required for there to be a diagnosis and one of the following two symptoms is also required.
- Problems with thinking and memory: A significant amount of people have difficulty with thinking straight, remembering things, and paying attention to details. One way they describe the feeling is like having brain fog and not being able to think clearly as if they were in a fog.
- Worsening of symptoms when standing or sitting upright: Known as orthostatic intolerance, it is marked by someone becoming dizzy, weak, faint, or just feeling lightheaded when standing or sitting up. Vision changes may also occur.
Other common symptoms include:
-Different types of pain and varying levels of severity. The most common kinds of pain are muscle pain and aches, joint pain without swelling or redness, headaches, either new or worsening.
-Tender lymph nodes in the neck or armpits
-Shortness of breath
-A sore throat
-Chills and night sweats
–Digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome
-Sensitivities to things like food, odors, chemicals, light, or noises
Many of these symptoms can be mistaken for another illness so it is important to see a healthcare provider to confirm whether it is ME/CFS or not.
What it is Like Living With ME/CFS
Living with chronic fatigue syndrome can be extremely difficult and downright debilitating. People may find that they have to completely change their lifestyles. Every day activities can easily exacerbate their condition and leave people incapable of doing anything else for a long period of time. This can have a major impact on the physical and mental well-being of those dealing with chronic fatigue syndrome and can negatively affect their self-esteem. It is important for those suffering from ME/CFS to reach out and talk to people if and when they need support.
How to Prepare for a Doctor’s Visit to Discuss ME/CFS
If you think you may have chronic fatigue syndrome or are presenting any of the symptoms mentioned above, then schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible. There are some things you can do to be ready for the visit so that your doctor can more quickly and easily identify and diagnose your condition. First, you should write down the names of any medications or supplements you are currently on. Then, create a list of all your symptoms. On your list of symptoms be sure to include when they started and if anything causes them to get worse. Also, note how often the symptoms occur and how they affect your daily life.
Before your appointment, you should write out any questions you may have. If you need support (for example, someone to help you ask questions or remember what the physician has said) then reach out and ask a family member or friend to accompany you.
How to Treat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
While there is no cure at the moment, some symptoms of ME/CFS can be treated and/or managed. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome treatment can consist of multiple different methods. Keep in mind that some treatments may work for one person but not for others and doctors should discuss any possible side effects. The following are conventional methods:
-Medications (antidepressants, sleep medication, pain medication, etc.)
-Better sleeping habits
-Light aerobic exercise
-Adjusting activity levels so as not to exacerbate symptoms like PEM
There are also integrative medicine therapies for chronic fatigue syndrome, which are:
-Changes in diet
-Relaxation therapies (meditation, breathing exercises, stress relief techniques)
-Herbal and Nutritional Supplements
Individuals suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome should always talk with a doctor before engaging with any therapies. Some therapies marketed for chronic fatigue syndrome can be serious and require proper monitoring. A healthcare professional can guide you in the right way by looking at your individual needs and providing a plan of care based on those needs.
Want to Try Integrative Medicine for ME/CFS?
If you are interested in integrative medicine, which combines conventional medicine and holistic therapies, and healthcare that focuses on your individual needs call Shakthi Health and Wellness Center today! Dr. Jyothi Rao is a highly skilled and experienced physician who can effectively evaluate your symptoms and optimize your body’s vitality. Call and speak to our concierge staff to schedule your appointment today.