Did you know that there is a disease whose main characteristic is extreme fatigue that persists for months? It is called chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), an illness that to this day remains elusive.
Definition of chronic fatigue
Chronic fatigue syndrome should not be confused with long-term fatigue, which normally lasts about one month. In the case of CFS, fatigue is present for a minimum of six months and is accompanied by other symptoms, such as joint and muscle pain. CFS is more common in women between the ages of 25 and 40, with disease onset often being abrupt. Those affected by CFS experience constant exhaustion, frustration and feelings of being trapped, which undermine their ability to carry out their regular activities. Yet, unlike people suffering from depression who fail to experience joy, CFS patients still enjoy life, but simply get exhausted quickly.
CFS progresses differently from one person to the next. Its more acute phase can last two years and recurs in cycles. Symptoms generally improve over time and the majority of people with CFS regain most of their former capabilities. Only a small percentage of them may become disabled or suffer from major depression.
Causes of chronic fatigue
The exact causes of CFS remain unknown, but certain factors may trigger its onset. These include a viral infection, immune deficiency or physical or psychological trauma. Many causes combined or an mix of physiological and psychological factors is believed to cause the syndrome. Unfortunately, preventing CFS will be impossible until its causes are better understood.
Symptoms of chronic fatigue
In addition to extreme and prolonged fatigue – often coupled with signs of depression in 60 to 80 percent ofcases – those with CFS will experience other symptoms. For the illness to be diagnosed, the patient must present at least four of the following additional health problems for at least six months:
- Impaired concentration
- Short-term memory problems
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Sore throat
- Migraines and unusual headaches
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck or armpits
- Intolerance to physical activity
- Sleep disturbances
Treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome
There is no specific treatment for CFS, but research has shown that an approach involving changes in certain lifestyle habits, such as avoiding overwork and stress, getting enough sleep, starting an aerobic exercise program, may be effective. Many health professionals believe that avoiding caffeine, sugar and alcohol might also be beneficial. Other options such as massage therapy and stress management are also thought to improve a person’s well- being.
Treating this syndrome, however, must focus on enhancing the person’s quality of life and ability to function, rather than eliminating all symptoms. While few patients fully recover from CFS, most of them gradually regain their prior level of energy.
For more information about this subject, talk to your pharmacist – he’s at your service.