Chronic fatigue syndrome: symptoms, treatment, and causes

Chronic fatigue syndrome: symptoms, treatment, and causes

CFS symptoms are similar to flu and include headaches.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS) is a condition of prolonged and severe tiredness or weariness. It is not relieved by rest and is not directly caused by other conditions.

CFS is a syndrome of persistent incapacitating weakness or fatigue, accompanied by nonspecific symptoms, that lasts at least 6 months, and not attributable to any known cause.

To be diagnosed with this condition, tiredness must be severe enough to decrease an individual's ability to participate in ordinary activities by 50 percent.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is much more than just feeling tired often. People with CFS are so run down that it interferes with their lives and can make it hard to function at all. Literature on the condition dates back to the 1700s. Through the centuries, it's been falsely attributed to various causes and is only now beginning to be better understood.

Fast facts on CFS:

  • People with CFS have trouble staying on top of their responsibilities at home and on the job. Others are severely disabled and even bedridden.
  • Symptoms of CFS include ones similar to common viral infections, including muscle aches, headache, and fatigue.
  • CFS occurs most often in people aged 40-50, more often in women than men, and is less prevalent among children and adolescents.

What are the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome?

People with CFS are dealing with extreme fatigue, but also a wide range of other symptoms, including flu-like symptoms and chronic pain.

When referring to chronic fatigue syndrome, patients, and patient advocates often prefer to call the condition chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS) to convey the complexity of the illness.

Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome come on within a few hours or days, last for 6 months or more, and can include:

  • headaches
  • tender lymph nodes
  • sore throat
  • muscle pain
  • joint pain
  • feeling tired
  • feeling discomfort after physical exertion for more than 24 hours

These symptoms either stay with a person or come and go for more than 6 months.

It's important to note that the signs and symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome are often similar to those of other health conditions.

Effect on quality of life

Many people with CFS find it difficult to carry out everyday tasks, this includes work. Employment rates through the past decade vary, with over half of CFS patients unable to work and nearly two-thirds limited in their work because of their illness.

More than half were on disability benefits or temporary sick leave, and less than a fifth worked full-time.

Patients report:

  • Significant reductions in levels of physical activity.
  • A level of impairment similar to other fatiguing medical conditions, such as, Sjögren's syndrome, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and the effects of chemotherapy.

CFS affects a person's functional status and well-being more than major medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, congestive heart failure, or type 2 diabetes mellitus. While some lead relatively normal lives, others are totally bed-ridden and unable to care for themselves.

What are the causes of chronic fatigue syndrome?

The cause of CFS is unknown. To discover possible triggers, researchers are studying the relationship between stress, the immune system, toxins, the central nervous system, and activation of a latent virus. Some researchers suspect a virus may cause it; however, no specific virus has been identified.

Studies suggest that CFS may be caused by inflammation of the nervous system, and that this inflammation may be some immune response or process. Other factors such as age, prior illness, stress, environment, or genetics may also play a role.

Treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common treatment for CFS.

The main goal of CFS treatment is to achieve symptom relief. There are several treatment options available:

  • Stress management - CFS patients should avoid overexertion, physical, and emotional stress. Moderate exercise that is monitored by a doctor or physical therapist may improve symptoms. Light exercise and stretching 4 hours before bedtime may help with sleep.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy - activity pacing, and envelope theory can help moderate activity and spread it evenly throughout the day, without overexertion.
  • Medications - medications used to treat specific symptoms of CFS include antidepressants to help improve sleep and relieve depression, anti-anxiety drugs to treat panic disorders, acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin (Bayer), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen to treat pain and fever.

Stimulants may be helpful, but strong stimulants may cause the "push-crash cycle," where increases in energy and activity eventually lead to increased tiredness and relapse.

Preventing chronic fatigue syndrome

Unfortunately, there are no guidelines for preventing CFS because the cause is unknown.

Outlook for CFS/ME

Mystery continues to surround chronic fatigue syndrome, but biological evidence of the disease is slowly emerging. In this spotlight article from November 2015 we took a close look at the condition and what the future may hold for potential treatments.

Developments are continuously unfolding but the outlook for patients with effective symptom management is positive.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: What is CFS, How it affects Life, a Treatment for Chronic Fatigue (Video Medical And Professional 2020).

Section Issues On Medicine: Medical practice