Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is an inhibiting condition characterized by extreme physical and mental exhaustion that cannot be cured by rest or sleep. CFS frequently goes undetected because its symptoms are often mistakenly associated with other disorders. As many as 20% of the estimated one in four Americans suffering with CFS remain undiagnosed. This lack of diagnosis generally makes managing symptoms much more difficult. Keep reading to learn more about CFS, its most common symptoms, and how to diagnose it.
What Is CFS?
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a lifelong condition that recurs in cycles of illness and wellness. During periods of illness, the patient is hindered by joint and muscle pain, exhaustion, and an inability to concentrate. In extreme cases, this can be debilitating and bed-binding, making a consistent work and social life nearly impossible. Periods of wellness can last for months, in which the patient is able to go to work, socialize, and exercise normally. Overexertion during these phases can commonly trigger or contribute to a relapse.
Very little is understood about what causes CFS, though studies are ongoing. Women are more prone to the condition than men, especially those between the ages of 40 and 60, which has contributed to the idea that hormonal changes during menopause could be a factor. There are also theories that the condition could be hereditary or a side effect of viral infections, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), glandular fever, or rubella.
Common Symptoms of CFS
Diagnosing CFS is difficult because the symptoms are commonly associated with many other ailments.
The primary symptoms of CFS are as follows:
- Frequent or recurring sore throat
- Tender cervical or auxiliary lymph nodes
- Joint pain without redness or swelling
- Muscle pain
- Significant impairment of short-term memory and concentration ability
- Consistently non-restorative sleep
- General feeling of illness that last 24 hours or more
If a patient can identify with four or more of these symptoms, has experienced more than six months of fatigue, and no other cause of the symptoms can be found through physical exams and a medical history, then a CFS diagnosis is likely.
Dealing with CFS
Given the lack of understanding about the causes of CFS, there no known cure for the condition. CFS is often lifelong, and treatment methods are aimed at managing the symptoms on a case-by-case basis, depending on individual experience. This usually involves a combination of medication for pain relief and work with medical specialists, physical therapists, and counselors.
The side effects of an unpredictably and potentially debilitating condition are emotional as well as physical. The support of loved ones, a counselor, or a spiritual guide can be helpful when dealing with this. Many CFS patients also take comfort from fellow patients by attending support groups, following blogs on the internet, and using social media to find others and communicate with them. Identifying with people who understand CFS and its symptoms firsthand can help to remind each patient that they are not alone.
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Retrieved February 17, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/cfs/
- National Health Service UK. (2015). Chronic fatigue syndrome. Retrieved February 17, 2016, from http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Chronic-fatigue-syndrome/Pages/Introduction.aspx
- National Institutes of Health. (2014). Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Retrieved February 17, 2016, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/chronicfatiguesyndrome.html
- Office on Women's Health. (2014). Chronic fatigue syndrome fact sheet. Retrieved February 17, 2016, from http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/chronic-fatigue-syndrome.html