Chronic fatigue syndrome is relatively unknown, yet it is very real. Here is some information on the subject.
Is fatigue normal?
In everyday life, it is completely normal to feel tired at certain times or during certain periods of time, and for a variety of reasons:
- lack of sleep
- lack of daylight
- high-level stress or overwork
- particular condition (pregnancy, menopause, aging, etc.)
In some cases, significant fatigue can by a symptom of a physical health problem (e.g., hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, sleep apnea, etc.) or a mental health issue (depression, burnout, etc.).
For individuals affected by chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also called myalgic encephalomyelitis, fatigue is almost always constant. It can be so intense that affected people are unable to do their daily activities.
What is chronic fatigue syndrome?
For now, CFS is relatively unknown by both the medical community and the general public. Yet, a fair number of people of all ages and ethnicities are affected by it. It is generally estimated that CFS affects two to four times more women than men. Young adults and middle-aged individuals are more often affected by it than children and elderly people.
Fatigue usually sets in suddenly, not gradually. Physical activity generally worsens the feeling of fatigue.
In addition to this predominant symptom, the affected person may experience or note other ones, such as:
- concentration or memory problems
- hypersensitivity (e.g., to noise)
- dizziness (especially while standing)
- muscle and joint pain, and
- general malaise
Little is currently known about the origin or causes of CFS. It has not been studied enough to enable a better understanding of the condition, and consequently, to be optimally managed.
It is possible that CFS may be triggered by a specific factor, such as:
- an infection
- physical trauma
- surgery or anesthesia, and
- exposure to certain pollutants (pesticides, insecticides, etc.)
What are the impacts of the condition?
The development of CFS greatly varies from one person to another. In many cases, the syndrome manifests itself in individuals that were once very active. Therefore, their well-being, quality of life and performance is significantly compromised. It sometimes takes time for them to realize what is happening. CFS, especially in its initial stages, can be a source of great concern and worry!
One of the frustrations of people living with CFS is the lack of understanding by the people around them. The syndrome is relatively unknown to many people, including some healthcare professionals. Consequently, people living with CFS may feel that they are not listened to, not getting adequate access to care or support, and are misunderstood. This is sometimes in addition to the difficulties directly related to the syndrome. Stress, anxiety, and depression often go hand in hand with CFS.
How do I know if I suffer from CFS?
In the presence of the above-described symptoms, it is important for the affected person to seek swift medical attention to obtain a medical diagnosis. It is often difficult to diagnose CFS with certainty, since its manifestations are similar to several other health problems. It is important not to draw any hasty conclusions; it's best to wait for an in-depth and informed assessment.
The diagnosis of CFS will be made by a doctor once his/her assessment allows the elimination of all other possible causes.
Can CFS be treated?
There is no cure for CFS per se. Treatment options are rather limited for the time being. However, certain measures can be considered to reduce symptoms. The use of drugs can sometimes help to control associated symptoms (such as insomnia), but often not fatigue itself.
Cognitive behavioural therapy can help a person to feel better. A personalized and progressive exercise program can also pay off. It is essential that this type of program be structured and supervised by a qualified professional in this field, since CFS is usually characterized by malaise, fatigue, pain after effort, and a tendency for other prior symptoms to worsen.
Additionally, physical activity, even if it is considered beneficial, can lead to other significant physical effects, and sometimes even pose a risk to health and well-being. This is why caution and close supervision are key.
See a doctor promptly if you think you may suffer from CFS. If you have received a positive diagnosis, here are some tips:
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle:
- Find out as much as you can about CFS to learn to live better with this reality.
- Look for support from people who are open-minded, empathetic, and wish to help.
- Attend support groups.
Speak to your doctor or pharmacist for additional information about chronic fatigue syndrome.