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Chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS, is a disease named in the 1980s. Although it is not a new disease and doctors referred to it by other names since the 1700’s, it is still the subject of a great deal of controversy.

Even now, as increasing numbers of people are being diagnosed with CFS, many still doubt its existence or maintain that it is a psychological ailment. However, several years of research have confirmed that CFS is indeed a physical illness, but one that we do not completely understand. An estimated half a million people in the United States have a CFS-like condition.

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia, or FM, is sometimes referred to as fibrositis. Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that causes pain and stiffness throughout some body tissues. Most commonly, those tissues support and move the bones and joints. Pain and localized tender points occur in the muscles. A patient feels it particularly in the muscles that support the neck, spine, shoulders, and hips. Signs of fibromyalgia involve widespread pain lasting more than three months, tenderness in at least 11 of 18 tender point sites, fatigue and sleep disturbances, which is why doctors are connecting fibromyalgia to chronic fatigue syndrome.

What is chronic fatigue syndrome?

The hallmark symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome are overwhelming fatigue and weakness that make it extremely difficult to perform routine and daily tasks. Patients experience problems with routine jobs, like getting out of bed, dressing, and eating. The fatigue does not let up after bed rest, as you might think. The illness can severely affect school, work, and leisure activities. It causes physical and emotional symptoms that can last for months or even years. Chronic fatigue syndrome is more common in females than in males. This disorder affects all racial and ethnic groups, but usually strikes people between the ages of 20 and 40. However, it could also occur in teens. A chronic fatigue syndrome illness has also been determined to occur in children under the age of 12. The actual number of children and teens affected by this illness is unknown.

What causes chronic fatigue syndrome? 

Unfortunately, doctors do not know the exact cause of chronic fatigue syndrome. Current research is exploring the possibility that people with CFS may have a dysfunction of the immune system. Commonly, these patients have dysfunction of the central nervous system as well. Scientists are also studying various metabolic abnormalities and risk factors. These risk factors are genetic predisposition, age, sex, prior illness, environment, and stress. All these factors may affect the development and course of the disease. Some researchers have suggested that a virus causes chronic fatigue syndrome, but no research prove this theory as of yet. At one time, researchers thought that the Epstein-Barr virus played a role in the development of CFS. However, many people diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome have no evidence of EBV infection. Despite this, a viral cause for CFS is still a suspect. The reason is that symptoms of CFS often mimic a viral infection, such as chronic infectious mononucleosis. Researchers today are hard at work trying to prove a possible viral link to this illness. Other theories suggest there are more factors we could also blame for chronic fatigue syndrome. Those factors are iron-poor blood (anemia), low blood pressure or sugar, environmental allergies, body-wide yeast infections, psychiatric or neurological problems, and endocrine dysfunction.

Symptoms of the chronic fatigue syndrome

Because symptoms of this illness are so vague and can vary widely from person to person, there is now a definition for diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome. According to that definition, a person must have both severe, chronic fatigue for at least 6 months or longer that is not alleviated by rest (with other known medical conditions having been excluded by a doctor's diagnosis) to be diagnosed with CFS. A patient should also have four or more of the following symptoms: forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating, sore throat, tender lymph nodes in the neck or armpit, and muscle pain or multi-joint pain without swelling. A patient should also have headaches of a new type, pattern, or severity, and un-refreshing sleep and vague feelings of illness or depression after exerting oneself, lasting more than 24 hours following exertion, as well as tiredness lasting longer than 24 hours. In addition, any of these symptoms associated with the fatigue must have occurred for at least six or more months in a row.
Other symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome can include mild fever, blurry vision, chills, night sweats, diarrhea, and fluctuations in appetite and weight.

Diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome

The truth is chronic fatigue syndrome is hard to diagnose. This is because a single diagnostic test does not exist and there is no identifiable cause of the illness. Another problem is that symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome often mimic other disorders such as viral infections, cardiac disease and neurological illnesses. Doctors first have to make sure that a person’s fatigue and other symptoms are not there because of another illness, a sleep disorder, or hormone problems. It would be much easier to diagnose CSF if doctors would remember that symptoms of CFS often develop suddenly and include a strong, noticeable fatigue that comes and goes or remains for months.

When examining a child, a doctor will be looking to first rule out diseases that appear similar to CFS. In addition to doing a physical examination, the doctor will ask about any concerns and symptoms the patient may have, past health, family health, any medications the child is taking, any allergies the child may have, and other issues. This is medical history, an essential important part of the diagnosing process. Blood tests will help to identify any other possible causes of illness. A child will also probably meet with a psychologist or therapist, who can help assess the symptoms in relation to his or her cognitive skills, concentration, memory, personality, and overall psychological state. This is helpful because chronic fatigue syndrome is often witnessed in people who also have depression or anxiety. In fact, this is why some health professionals mistake CFS for a psychiatric condition.

Treatment of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome

Unfortunately, there is no proven or reliable cure for CFS, although some studies have found that individuals with the best chance of improvement are those who remain as active as possible. People who seek some degree of control over the course of their illness have statistically the best chances of overcoming it. If you suspect that you or your child have CFS, look for a doctor who is willing to consider the problem as a medical condition along with psychiatric symptoms. The doctor should be supportive, concerned, and familiar with the diagnostic process all the time.

Although there is no hard and fast treatment available for CFS, experts say that some lifestyle changes can help. Try to have regular, carefully planned exercise. This will help by providing healing movement, increased energy, and feelings of wellbeing. However, exercise should not be extreme, because people with CFS should always pace themselves while doing any physical activity that requires exertion. Stress management and reduction techniques are also important, teaching strategies for taking control over certain aspects of the illness. A healthy diet, minimizing the symptoms and general discomfort could also improve fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Most doctors agree that people with CFS should avoid heavy meals, alcohol, caffeine, and large quantities of junk food that surrounds all of us. Some people find that a registered dietitian or nutritionist can suggest menu plans to help reduce symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. Acupuncture, massage, stretching, yoga, and tai chi have been helpful for many people suffering from CFS.

In addition to lifestyle changes, sessions with a licensed therapist or counselor or involvement in a support group can help these patients. The main goal of therapy is to help people cope with the limitations brought on by the illness. The goal is also to change negative or unrealistic thoughts or feelings into positive, realistic ones. It can also help children with CFS and their families learn how to deal with academic or social problems brought on by the illness. Common problems are missed school, poor performance, or withdrawal from friends and social situations. Some people with CSF find that antidepressant medications can help ease the symptoms. Pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs are also beneficial to some individuals.

Read More: Chronic Fibromyalgia Pain Relief

Coping with chronic fatigue syndrome

CFS is a misunderstood and chronic illness, and feeling well is often a challenge for the patients. Because there is no real treatment for CFS, emotional difficulties such as depression, frustration, anxiety, and helplessness can develop in most patients. To help yourself or your child cope with the emotional symptoms of CFS, you should consider following the advice of the American Academy of Family Physicians: Try encouraging your child to keep a daily diary to identify times when he or she has the most energy, and help plan activities for these times. Have your child’s doctor plan an exercise program to maintain strength at whatever level possible. Beside this, maintaining some level of activity and exercise, within your child’s abilities, can help your child feel better.