Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment
Everyone feels tired, some days more than others, but when exhaustion becomes extreme enough to bring life to a grinding halt, it might be Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). This is an incredibly complex medical condition marked by extreme fatigue that persists for at least six months and that can’t be completely explained by other underlying medical disorders. The fatigue often worsens with physical or mental activity and doesn’t improve with rest. According to the definition given by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic fatigue syndrome has more than one cause, and there could be two or more triggers that might work together to cause CFS.
Other names for CFS include:
- Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) which can also be abbreviated as ME/CFS.
- Systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID).
In this article, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about chronic fatigue, including how re-origin, a neuroplasticity-based treatment program, has helped others rid themselves of CF symptoms and get back to resuming the lifestyle they love.
Symptoms of CFS
Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome can vary from person to person, and the severity of symptoms can fluctuate from day to day. Signs and symptoms may include:
- Intense fatigue
- Memory or concentration issues
- Sore throat
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck or armpits
- Unexplained muscle or joint pain
- Dizziness that intensifies upon transitioning from lying down/ sitting to standing
- Feeling tired even after ample sleep
- Extreme exhaustion after routine physical or mental activity
Diagnosing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
According to the Institute of Medicine, the majority of CFS patients are yet to receive a diagnosis. CFS is a complex condition to diagnose as its symptoms are similar to many other conditions. Additionally, there is no precise medical test designed to screen for CFS.
Many people with CFS don’t look sick, and thus doctors may not recognize that they have a health condition. It is a diagnosis or exclusion. This means your doctor rules out other potential causes and reviews your medical history to diagnose CFS.
When you visit a doctor, they will make sure that you have core symptoms of CFS while reviewing the duration and severity of your extreme fatigue. Understanding the potential cause of extreme fatigue is a major part of the CFS diagnosis process. As CFS symptoms are similar to many other conditions, it is best to seek professional help with diagnosis and treatment.
Some common conditions that resemble, and are often accompanied by CFS symptoms include:
- Lyme disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Lupus (SLE)
- Major depressive disorder
- Sleep disorders
Moreover, the side effects of certain drugs, including antihistamines and alcohol, can cause CFS symptoms to occur.
Possible causes and risk factors involved with CFS
Most of the people who have CFS report getting bacterial or viral infections such as the flu before developing the symptoms of CFS. Additionally, 1 in 10 people who were infected with Epstein-Barr virus, Fibromyalgia, or Coxiella burnetii have developed a set of CFS symptoms. Also, people with severe symptoms of Epstein-Barr virus, Fibromyalgia, and Coxiella burnetii are more likely to develop CFS than those with milder symptoms. However, not all individuals who have CFS reported having bacterial or viral infections before chronic fatigue.
Another potential risk factor is a weak immune system, specifically, how one’s immune system responds to infectious diseases or stress. Going to the next level, CFS shares some features of autoimmune illnesses. An autoimmune illness is a condition where the immune system attacks healthy tissues in its own body, like in rheumatoid arthritis. Both extreme stress and hormonal changes are reported in people before showing CFS symptoms. A few patients with CFS have lower levels of cortisol than healthy people, but doctors haven’t yet concluded whether this is significant, either, as it is still within the normal range. There may also be a genetic link with some studies on twins and families indicating that genes and environment might play a role in developing CFS. However, more research needs to be done as specific genes and environmental factors are not found yet.
Treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
As there is no specific diagnostic test for chronic fatigue syndrome, there is no particular treatment or cure for CFS. Each person has a different set of CFS symptoms overlap and thus needs multiple types of treatment to manage CFS and relieve their symptoms.
Strategies like learning new ways to manage activities, brain exercises and retraining, cognitive therapies, and developing new coping methods for the most disturbing symptom may provide symptom relief from CFS.
When visiting a healthcare provider, it is best to discuss all treatment plans possible, with benefits and risks, including medicines and other therapies.
Treatment of CFS includes treating related symptoms like sleep disorders, extreme fatigue, and post-exertional malaise (PEM) symptoms.
PEM is a condition in which minor physical, mental, or emotional exertion results in CFS symptoms becoming worse. These worsening symptoms usually occur 12 to 48 hours after the activity and last for days or even weeks.
Activity management, also known as pacing, helps balance rest and activity to avoid PEM symptoms. Finding your mental health stress threshold and physical activity limits will help you schedule rest times. Staying within limits is known as the energy envelope. Conserving and preserving your daily energy packets is one way to create health. Keeping a journal is the best way to track your activities. Individuals use a variety of techniques, home remedies, and lifestyle changes for CFS:
- Limiting or eliminating your caffeine intake improves sleep and eases your insomnia.
- Limiting or avoiding nicotine and alcohol.
- Don’t nap during the day if it affects your night’s sleep.
- Create and follow a sleep routine – have fixed times for sleeping and waking up.
The re-origin brain retraining approach
The treatments mentioned above may be beneficial for you, but they are more likely to be unsustainable as they don’t repair the root neurological cause of the dysfunction. Moreover, many of them require frequent and expensive visits to your healthcare practitioner(s) – limiting access.
At re-origin®, we believe that CFS and other chronic ailments may stem from a chronically elevated threat-response caused by conditioned overactivity in the limbic system. By addressing this issue directly using brain retraining, many of our clients have seen a dramatic reduction in their symptoms. While more research still needs to be conducted in the area of the brain and behavioral conditioning, these results are very encouraging and seem to support our theory surrounding the limbic system.
With the re-origin’s neuroplasticity-based treatment program, you’ll learn to apply an easy-to-follow, five-step neurocognitive technique that helps participants retrain the unconscious nervous and immune system responses that may be at the root of their symptoms.
Essentially re-origin’s neuroplasticity program teaches your brain to recognize and then replace neural connections that are promoting the symptoms of chronic fatigue with resourceful ones which may help lessen the intensity CFS is having on your life.
The easy-to-follow, self-directed and paced, affordable techniques require only a few minutes a day to implement.
Moreover, we offer access to a community and coaching to help people retrain their brains and live to their full potential.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to a few of the most commonly asked questions about CFS:
People with CFS often describe their experience as “crash,” “relapse,” or “collapse.” It is an experience of a period of immobilizing physical and/or mental fatigue. It is caused by “heavy” and “overloaded” physical, mental, or emotional activity. Some people may also feel unwell, have a sore throat, and have muscles & joint pain.
Some of the common primary symptoms of CFS include extreme fatigue, feeling tired even after rest and sleep, taking a long time to recover after a mental or physical activity, sleep problems like irregular sleep and insomnia, and problems with thinking, memory, and concentration.
Though there is no specific treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome, you can get relief from CFS symptoms by addressing each symptom individually. If you are facing problems with sleep, have a fixed sleep schedule. If you have muscle and joint pain, treat it with professional help to minimize your pain. Moreover, limit the intake of caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Ultimately, not all methodologies will provide relief, and even if they do, they may be temporary. And, this can also be cost prohibitive as well.
No, chronic fatigue syndrome is not a mental illness. CFS is a complex disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that remains for at least six months which an underlying medical condition can’t fully explain. In CFS, extreme fatigue worsens mental or physical activity and doesn’t improve with rest.
There is no particular treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome. Nonetheless, you can use medicines to relieve some symptoms of CFS. Over-the-counter and stronger painkillers can help ease headaches, as well as muscle and joint pain. Always seek professional help from a GP before consuming any medicines.
CFS and chronic depression have many similar symptoms like extreme fatigue, sleep problems, lack of energy, pain, digestive problems, headaches, memory lapses, or trouble with concentration. Chronic depression can lead to chronic fatigue syndrome. Therefore, open a dialogue with your healthcare provider about antidepressants.
Final Words from re-origin
At re-origin, we believe that nobody should have to live with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. We want you to heal, stopping the need to use coping mechanisms in order to live a normal life. Our program involves utilizing easy-to-follow, step-by-step neurocognitive techniques to rewire faulty neural connections in the brain and create new, functional neural paths. With commitment and repetition, you can change your brain and consequently, its physiological influence on your physical wellbeing. You don’t have to try and live with CFS, you can thrive. We can’t wait to help you get there.