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Sufferers of chronic fatigue syndrome often get less sympathy than they deserve. They may not look sick. Their doctors may not find abnormalities in laboratory testing. Nonetheless, chronic fatigue is a real disease, just possibly misnamed.

In the 1970's and 1980's, publicist Howard Bloom was a mover and shaker in the American music industry. Head of publicity for ABC Records and then publicity director for Gulf + Western, Bloom was responsible for "discovering" John Mellencamp, KISS, Hall and Oates, AC/DC, and Run DMC. Running his own publicity agency, he represented Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Talking Heads, Lionel Richey, ZZ Top,  Bette Midler, AC/DC, and Simon & Garfunkel.

Howard Bloom is hardly someone who could be accused of faking an illness because he couldn't hack leading a successful life. Nonetheless, in 1988 Bloom developed chronic fatigue syndrome. He was essentially confined to bed for the next 10 years. Bloom was still vitally interested in life. He even tried to get a marriage license without traveling to the New York City clerk for a license, impossible because he could not leave his home. Bloom eventually recovered and resumed a high-profile career as an author and commentator, but not until after enduring years of disability due to this poorly understood disease.

What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

People who have chronic fatigue syndrome usually pose a challenge to their doctors. They may complain of severe fatigue after minimal physical exertion. They may complain of "brain fog," or flu-like symptoms that just won't go away.

Sometimes they look sick, but more often they don't, and their condition does not produce recognize easily recognizable lab results.

People who have chronic fatigue syndrome are often told they are malingerers, or that they have a psychosomatic illness and need psychiatric treatment, or simply to go away. There is a growing consensus, however, that their disease is just as real as diabetes, or heart disease, or a broken bone. Doctors in different parts of the English-speaking world, use different terms to describe similar symptoms.

Different Definitions In Different Countries

In the UK, Canada, and Australia, people who have symptoms of being chronically fatigued may be diagnosed as having myalgic encephalomyelitis. In these Commonwealth countries, a diagnosis of myalgic encephalomyelitis requires a muscle component (myalgia), some kind of weakness of the skeletal muscles, and a brain (cephalic) component, some degree of depression or impaired mental functioning.

In the United States, doctors use a looser definition of the disease to diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome. To get a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome, a patient must (1) have suffered severe chronic fatigue for at least six months, (2) not suffer any other known disease that would account for the fatigue, such as multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome, fibromyalgia, complex migraine, or depression, and (3) display at least four of the following symptoms:

  • Impaired memory or short-term concentration.
  • Sore throat.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Tender lymph nodes.
  • Failure to be refreshed by sleep.
  • Pain in more than one joint without swelling or redness
  • Headaches of a pattern and duration not experienced before the onset of fatigue.
  • Fatigue for more than 24 hours after exercise.
Many more people are diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome under the American definition than under the British/Canadian/Australian/New Zealand definition.

See Also: Tired Of Extreme Fatigue, Sleeplessness And Muscle Pain? Beat Your Catabolic State

The disease is more common in women than in men, and in younger people than in older people. It is often called "yuppie flu," but it is more common in non-whites than in whites and in poor people than in middle class or wealthy people.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Jason LA, Brown A, Evans M, Sunnquist M, Newton JL. Contrasting chronic fatigue syndrome versus myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome. Fatigue. 2013.1:168-183. Accessed 2 February 2015.
  • Tucker ME. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Wrong Name, Real Illness. Medscape Rheumatology. 8 January 2015.Photo courtesy of Tim Pierce via Flickr:
  • Photo courtesy of Muffet via Flickr:

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