Are you feeling chronically fatigued or tired all the time? Do your symptoms progressively get worse with physical or mental activity?
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), is a complex and debilitating illness that causes long-lasting fatigue and a host of other symptoms. It also is a severe and long-term illness that can affect almost every aspect of everyday life, with no known cause, no known cure, and no standard treatment. To make matters worse, it’s estimated that up to 2.5 million Americans have CFS, although the exact number is unknown.
In this short post, read more about what Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is and what it feels like so that you can determine if you have it, and whether to seek treatment.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is widely considered a multi-systemic neurological disease that can affect anyone, at any time. Unlike “chronic fatigue” as a symptom—which can be caused by an iron deficiency, hypothyroidism, or depression—chronic fatigue syndrome is different and is often characterized by feelings of fatigue, as well as a range of other symptoms. Like depression and fibromyalgia, CFS can leave patients chronically bedridden, making them unable to perform routine activities for more than several months.
While patients with CFS can experience a range of symptoms, they typically experience flu-like symptoms such as swollen and tender lymph nodes and sore throat, joint and muscle pain, muscle weakness, poor balance and/or clumsiness, and even sensitivity to light, sound, or touch. They may also have difficulty processing information or retrieving words and suffer from memory problems, nausea, and heart palpitations. These symptoms can vary in intensity and can be disabling for some people.
The hallmark symptom of CFS is Post-Exertional Malaise (PEM), the worsening of symptoms after physical or mental exertion. Unlike recovering from a strenuous workout, those with PEM can experience an array of progressively worse symptoms following activity of any kind. This can range from extra fatigue and achiness in the mild case, to extreme fatigue, pain, and cognitive dysfunction in severe cases. Symptoms typically worsen over a 12 to 48-hour period after the activity and can last as long as several days or weeks.
For an inside look at what chronic fatigue is and how it feels, check out UNREST, a video diary/documentary film that chronicles the experiences of filmmaker Jennifer as she falls ill with CFS. It’s a critically acclaimed documentary that’s available on Netflix or the PBS website for free, and one of our best sources of information about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Despite affecting millions of people around the world, the exact cause of CFS is still unknown. Many experts believe that a combination of factors may be involved, such as genetic predisposition, immune system dysfunction, hormonal imbalance, and environmental factors such as exposure to toxins, infections, or stress.
It’s possible that a combination of these factors can trigger CFS in susceptible individuals. For example, a person may have a genetic predisposition that makes them more susceptible to the effects of environmental stressors, or an infection may trigger an immune system response that leads to CFS.
Based on what we know, the most common triggers of chronic fatigue syndrome are viral and bacterial infections, physical trauma, prolonged stress, sleep deprivation, and mold, as well as COVID-19.
CFS is often diagnosed after other potential causes for its symptoms have been ruled out. Diagnosis is based on a combination of medical history, physical exam, and the exclusion of other conditions.
Keep in mind: Because many of the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome overlap with other conditions, CFS is extremely hard to diagnose, even for trained physicians. For example, those with obstructive sleep apnea don’t get enough oxygen when they sleep, which can cause excessive daytime sleepiness and other fatigue-related symptoms in patients, similar to CFS. Moreover, people with depression often experience “chronic fatigue” as one of their symptoms, which causes many doctors to incorrectly diagnose patients with depression when they’re better fit for CFS.
Living with chronic fatigue syndrome can be incredibly difficult, but there is hope. While there are currently no known “cures” for chronic fatigue syndrome or one-size-fits-all treatments, many medications, and alternative treatment modalities can make a difference in your overall quality of life and symptoms. With the right approach, it is possible to manage your symptoms so that you can live a more functional and fulfilling life.
If you are struggling with CFS and are looking for help, contact Sierra Integrative Medical Center for more information about our treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome. Our team of experienced physicians are pioneers in Integrative Medicine, a unique form of medicine that blends conventional medicine with alternative therapies, to provide the absolute best care possible.
Contact us today to learn more.