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CFS Day: What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)?

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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, is an illness categorised by extreme, long-term fatigue that isn’t relieved by rest.

If you’ve experienced intense fatigue for longer than six months, you could be experiencing CFS. It’s a condition that often appears out of nowhere, following a flu-like infection or an episode of physical or psychological trauma. But for some people, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome develops over time and lasts months or even years.

What Are The Symptoms Of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Most people who develop CFS feel extremely tired and generally unwell long-term, but there are other symptoms associated with this condition. These include:

  • Problems sleeping
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Sore throat or sore glands in the neck that aren’t swollen
  • Feeling dizzy or sick
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Heart palpitations

Exercising or leading an active lifestyle can often make these symptoms worse, and the severity can vary from day to day. Some people might even notice that their symptoms vary over the course of a day. But understanding how to manage the symptoms is key to this condition, as it can be extremely debilitating.

What Causes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

It’s not precisely known what causes CFS to develop, but there are many theories about illnesses or causes for this condition. It can be triggered by an infection, for example, but specialists believe that there are certain factors that can make you more likely to develop these issues. These include:

  • Viral infections, like glandular fever
  • Bacterial infections, such as pneumonia
  • Immune system issues
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Mental health problems
  • Genetic predisposition

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can cause complications such as lifestyle restrictions, increased absences from work, social isolation and depression. It’s important to seek medical advice if you are suffering from these types of symptoms as a GP can help you develop a treatment plan.

How Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Diagnosed?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can be difficult to diagnose, as there’s no specific test for this condition. It’s often diagnosed based on your symptoms and by ruling out other potential problems that could be causing your symptoms. These might include:

  • Lyme disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Lupus
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Hypothyroidism.

Often, your GP will ask you a series of questions to determine what could be causing your health issues, and you may need to have blood tests and urine tests to rule out any vitamin or mineral deficiencies. If the common illnesses that produce symptoms that you’re experiencing are ruled out and you don’t get better as quickly as expected, you might receive a diagnosis for CFS.

Can Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Be Treated?

CFS doesn’t have a specific treatment or medication that cures it completely. So, in many cases, the aim for sufferers of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is to relieve the symptoms. This means that the treatment for this condition depends on how CFS is affecting the individual and how severe their symptoms are. Some of the treatments might include cognitive behavioural therapy, a structured exercise programme and medicine to control the pain or issues with sleeping.

Making lifestyle changes can help reduce your symptoms, such as reducing your intake of caffeine, which can help you sleep, and minimising your intake of alcohol and nicotine. It can also help to create a sleep routine, such as going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time in the morning, so your body gets used to when to wind down.

Find ways to relax and rest so that your body has a chance to recuperate, as this can help to alleviate some of the exhaustion that you can feel when you’re dealing with CFS.

Can People With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Recover?

People with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome usually improve over time with treatment, but not everyone who has CFS fully recovers. There might also be periods where your symptoms will get better or worse, so it’s about learning how to treat your symptoms effectively. Recovery tends to be less likely in people who have experienced their symptoms for a longer period of time, who have long-standing depression, have numerous physical symptoms and those who are over the age of 40 when their symptoms start.