Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complex disorder primarily characterized by long-term, debilitating fatigue. Other common symptoms may include loss of memory or concentration, brain fog, muscle aches, enlarged lymph nodes in the neck or armpits, joint pain, headaches, sore throat, unrefreshing sleep and extreme exhaustion after exercise that lasts for over 24 hours. Unfortunately there is no official test for CFS and no known cure. Diagnosis is based on symptoms alone.
The syndrome’s origin is still somewhat of a mystery with patients reporting a variety of onset experiences. For example, many patients report that their chronic fatigue began suddenly with flu-like symptoms, which has raised suspicions that CFS is triggered by a virus. Some of the viruses that have been studied in connection to the syndrome include Epstein-Barr virus, human herpes virus 6 and mouse leukemia viruses, but research results have remained inconclusive. Many CFS patients also suffer from immune system problems, hormone imbalances and/or high levels of stress, but it is still unclear whether any of these can cause the disease.
CFS affects about 3 million Americans and is about twice as common in women as men. Most sufferers are in their 40s and 50s, although it affects people of all ages, including children.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that people whose symptoms match those of CFS see a doctor in order to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms, such as Lyme disease, hypothyroidism, sleep disorders, major depressive disorder, monoucleosis (mono), lupus, alcohol/substance abuse disorders, multiple sclerosis (MS), chronic hepatitis and others.
Since there is no known cure for CFS, treatment is centered around disease management and symptom relief. Some patients may be prescribed symptom-targeting pharmaceutical drugs, such as antidepressants or sleep medication. A gentle exercise program combined with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to help relieve symptoms in some patients.
Many patients have turned to holistic and alternative therapies with reported success. Several pathways to explore include acupuncture, massage, yoga, a healthy diet free of refined grains/sugar and allergens, as well as certain vitamins and herbal supplements.
Example: After suffering with extreme fatigue, brain fog and sore joints for half a year, Charlotte was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. Her new regimen of yoga, CBT and healthy eating has increased her energy levels and helped her cope with many other symptoms.