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Chronic severe fatigue that lasts for at least six months and is accompanied by other symptoms that cannot be explained by an existing medical disorder may be part of a condition called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

The diagnosis of CFS is made based on two major criteria. The first is that the patient experiences chronic severe fatigue for at least six months that is not caused by a disease nor relieved with rest. The second is the presence of at least four other symptoms that occur at the same time or after one has developed severe fatigue. This condition is now called by the Institute of Medicine as Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease (SEID).

Experts estimate that up to 2.5 million people in the US are suffering from CFS. This condition is four times more common among women, mostly 40 to 50 years old. However, even teenagers may be affected. The cause of CFS is unknown.

Other factors that can increase your risk of CFS include:

  • Stress
  • Viral infections
  • Immune system problems
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Disturbances in the autonomic regulation of blood pressure and heart rate
  • Nutritional deficiency

Signs And Symptoms

Patients with CFS complain of severe physical and mental fatigue that is not relieved by rest. It may come and go, but it is so severe that it disrupts work and other activities. Aside from chronic severe fatigue that is not related to a diagnosable disease, other specific symptoms include:

  • Feeling of being weak or unwell after activities, which can take more than 24 hours to improve
  • Sleep problems
  • Localized or widespread pain, which may be in the form of muscle pains, joint pains or headaches.
  • Problems concentrating
  • Short-term memory problems
  • Increased sensitivity to light, noise, emotions
  • Slow thinking, feeling disoriented, confusion
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle coordination problems
  • Lightheadedness / dizziness
  • Very fast heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Tender lymph nodes
  • Weight change / appetite change
  • Feeling worse under stress
  • Frequent urination
  • Nausea
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Cold hands and feet, low body temperature, sweating, trouble with heat or cold
  • Depression makes symptoms worse

CFS symptoms often start suddenly, although some people develop symptoms gradually. These symptoms can change within a day, or day after day. Remissions and relapses are common.

There is no known cure for CFS, but treatment is focused on treating symptoms exhibited. Because patients may have different combinations of symptoms, treatment may be complex. However, experts recommend treating the most disruptive symptoms first, especially fatigue, sleep problems, pain, depression and anxiety, memory and concentration problems, dizziness, and light-headedness. Medications may include antidepressants, over-the-counter pain relievers, nutritional and herbal supplements, and other relevant drugs. Other modes of treatment include cognitive behavioral therapy, professional counseling, and support groups. Alternative forms of treatment that may help improve symptoms include acupuncture, tai-chi, yoga, and massage therapy.

Affected individuals may also benefit from eating a healthy balanced diet, avoiding extremes in exercise, developing a suitable activity program, and reducing stress.

It is also important to consult a specialist who can treat chronic pain, recommend a rehabilitation program, and monitor your symptoms.

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