Spotlight on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome
(CFS) can be a frustrating illness. Doctors usually are
able to diagnose it only after ruling out other conditions, such as fibromyalgia,
depression, viral illness, thyroid problems or heart conditions. You don’t
necessarily look like you’re sick when you have CFS. And since CFS was defined
as an actual illness fairly recently (in the 1980s), there are still some people
who think that CFS isn’t really a disease at all.
cases of CFS affect people from age 20 through 40, but it can affect those in
their teens as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate
that about half a million people in the United States have CFS.
What are the symptoms?
is difficult to diagnose because there are many other conditions that have the
same symptoms. There’s no specific test that indicates without a doubt that CFS
hallmark of CFS is overpowering fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest. To
diagnose CFS, doctors look for that chronic, severe, fatigue, plus four of the
following symptoms that have been present for six months:
Difficulty with concentration and short-term memory
Pain in the joints and muscles
Sleep that is not refreshing
Headaches that are unlike other headaches you’ve had before
Tenderness in the lymph nodes of the armpit and neck
Tiredness that continues for more than 24 hours
can take a long time for doctors to make a diagnosis of CFS, because they must
rule out other conditions first.
symptoms of CFS are not limited to the ones listed above. People with CFS also
may experience rashes, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, chills or night
sweats, chest pain, unexplained weight changes, seizures, depression and
of the most difficult aspects of CFS is that the severity of the symptoms
varies. For example, sometimes you may feel tired but not overwhelmingly so, and
then it changes, and you feel as if you can’t even summon the energy to walk
across the room. This unpredictability can make it harder to deal with the
What is the cause?
Researchers have not yet determined the cause of CFS. There are plenty of
theories, such as immune disorder, problems with the central nervous system, a
virus, environmental allergies and anemia.
CFS treatment: wide-ranging, diverse
there’s no real medication regimen for CFS, the treatment generally involves
taking steps to relieve symptoms and to improve your ability to function. If you
have CFS, it’s important to find a doctor you feel comfortable with, who can
take some time to talk with you in detail about your symptoms and ways to treat
Common ways to treat CFS include:
Drugs that can provide symptom relief, such as drugs for depression, sleep
disturbances and pain.
therapies: There are many types of therapists who can help people with CFS
manage their condition. These include massage therapists; exercise therapists
(it’s difficult to exercise when you’re feeling exhausted, but an exercise
therapist can help you identify ways to exercise and help you determine when you
should be active and when you shouldn’t); occupational therapists who can help
you use your energy on the job more efficiently and make adjustments when
needed; nutritional therapists; mental health therapists; acupuncturists.
addition, consider learning Chinese movements such as t’ai chi or qigong. This
type of movement can help you learn to relax your body and heighten your sense
of well-being. The exercises are gentle and flowing, which is more appealing to
someone with CFS than something that requires more physical exertion.
CFS does usually improve with time
you have CFS, it’s important to remember that even though the course of the
illness can be long—it can last for several years, it generally gets
better—gradually—in time. You’ll have longer periods of time during which you
feel good, and your “down” times will become shorter and shorter.
key thing is to find a set of behaviors that can help improve the way you feel
now, when you have CFS. The more options you explore, the more likely you are to
find solutions that work for you.
The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention; The Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome of America