1. What is chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)?
It is common and normal for everyone to feel exhaustion from time to time. People usually feel exhausted or drowsy after a long day at work, a stressful meeting, or when they have not slept at night, etc. However, there are people who regularly experience extreme feelings of fatigue and their daily life routine is affected as a consequence. These people suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). A common characteristic of people who suffer from CFS is that rest does not improve these feelings of fatigue. Also, they feel more exhausted when they engage in any activity, either physical or mental.
2. Causes, signs and symptoms
There are many factors that influence the occurrence of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Genes are the first factor because CFS may be inherited from our parents. This genetic predisposition sets the stage but it may also require other factors for CFS to occur. These factors might be traumatic events, various types of infections, hormonal imbalances, impaired immune system, psychiatric problems, and/or perfectionist personality traits.
To what regards symptoms may impact the person, will vary from individual to individual. For some, CFS symptoms may worsen for a certain period of time and prevent daily activities, whilst at other times they may improve. As shown in the name, fatigue is the most known symptom and it includes both mental and physical exhaustion. Main symptoms are sleeping problems and impaired concentration and memory. People who suffer from CFS might also have some other psychological difficulties such as depression or panic attacks. Physical symptoms include the following; persistent muscle and joint pain, sore throat, tender lymph nodes, irritable bowel, dizziness, sweating and temperature problems.
The diagnosis of CFS is difficult because there is no test and CFS symptoms can easily mimic the symptoms of other health problems very well. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), CFS can be diagnosed when someone has fatigue, this is persistent or recurrent, any other health conditions are ruled out, fatigue has a clear starting point, reduction of daily activities and after physical activity, the person feels worse. CFS can be diagnosed when an individual experiences fatigue and at least one more of the above symptoms for a duration of at least six months.
4. Chronic Fatigue Treatment
CFS is normally treated with psychotherapy, medication or a change in lifestyle. Choice of treatment depends on the severity of the disorder, and individual choice. According to NICE, the recommended psychotherapy for CFS is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This is a type of therapy that focuses on the connection between thoughts, emotions and behaviour and teaches the person new ways of thinking and behaving that may help in reducing the severity of symptoms and the distress associated with the illness. Another kind of treatment is adopting a healthier lifestyle, which may include such things as; pacing, increasing activity levels, improved diet, and proper sleep routines. CFS can also be treated through the use of medication and your GP will be able to provide you with guidance on what medication to take. At present two types of medications are commonly used to treat CFS – antidepressants and amitriptyline. Some of these medications start working immediately whilst others take several weeks to start working. Common to all medication is that it may cause side effects and some medication should not be taken for prolonged periods of time.