What You Need to Know About Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a commonly misdiagnosed disorder with numerous symptoms that resemble other diagnoses. This condition is characterized by debilitating fatigue that affects almost all aspects of a person’s daily life. There is no known cause for chronic fatigue syndrome, although some theorize that it can result following a viral infection, hormonal or psychological stress, and immune system problems. Women are diagnosed more frequently than men, but this may be due to the fact that women are more likely to disclose their symptoms to their doctors. The disorder can occur at any age, but more commonly affects individuals between 40 and 50 years old. It is also not uncommon for those who have difficulty handling stress to be more at risk for developing chronic fatigue syndrome.
Symptoms & Diagnosis
Most individuals who have been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome describe the symptoms as being similar to those present with the flu: body aches, fever, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, headache, and of course fatigue. Other symptoms that are common with this condition are memory loss and difficulty concentrating. The fatigue experienced is extreme in nature, where significant exhaustion is present for more than 24 hours following any physical exercise or mental stress. Rest does not lessen the fatigue, so although individuals with this condition report they sleep for most of the day, they do not feel less exhausted afterwards. Diagnosis may take a significant amount of time, because several medical tests are performed mainly to rule out other conditions.
At this time, there is no cure for chronic fatigue syndrome and no approved treatments to address the disorder as a whole. Treatment is aimed at managing symptoms. The best way to do this is usually addressing the symptoms that cause the most problems on a daily basis first. It is important to note that what works for one person may not work for another, and the treatment plan should be extremely individualized on a case-by-case basis. Common symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome that are usually medically treated are sleep problems, pain, depression and anxiety. Although there are medications that can help manage these symptoms, there are also behavioral habits that can be incorporated to avoid taking too many drugs.
Most individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome complain of difficulty falling and staying asleep, frequent and intense dreaming, restless leg syndrome, and restless sleep. Those diagnosed report sleeping significantly longer than when they were not experiencing the condition, but yet it does not relieve their sleepiness. This is due to poor quality of the sleep. Good sleep habits are important for these cases as improved sleep quality is part of the treatment. Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning is one of the first instructions given to improve sleep quality. Creating a bedtime routine is also helpful, such as avoiding television, computers, and cell phones, controlling noise and light, and avoiding large meals, caffeine, and alcohol right before going to bed. As far as exercise, it is best to perform light exercise and stretching at least four hours before bedtime, as studies show it may help improve sleep quality.
People suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome may experience muscle and joint pain, skin sensitivity to touch, and headaches. It is advisable to try over-the-counter pain medication before prescription drugs, as this condition may be ongoing and more side effects can develop from stronger medications. Outside of medical management, pain can be addressed through light massage, heat therapy, aquatic exercise, and stretching. Studies have shown improvements in subjective pain levels with acupuncture treatment. Some people tolerate pain more than others so it is best to practice as many forms of pain management outside of medication to help deal with pain if you have a lower tolerance.
The main and initial symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome is fatigue. This fatigue brings along difficulty concentrating as well as memory loss at times. Research has shown that there are ways to manage this fatigue and prevent it from worsening. Some affected individuals will go through “push-and-crash” cycles, which is when they hare having a good, more energetic day, they take advantage and do too much, whether it be exercise, errands, or household chores. This increased activity will cause a crash, forcing them to rest, and once they are feeling a little better they attempt to continue pushing activity. This eventually causes extreme fatigue and worsening of all symptoms present with chronic fatigue syndrome.
It is best to practice energy conservation with activities, such as sitting while cooking or doing laundry, performing only a few tasks or errands at a time, and scheduling breaks. This is important whether you are having a good or bad day in terms of fatigue. The CDC recommends incorporating a balanced diet to ensure the body is taking in all of the nutrients it requires for maximal energy. Alternative therapies may also help with symptom management such as physical therapy, relaxation therapy, meditation, yoga, and massage.
Many athletes have unfortunately been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. Some have managed to have a full recovery and get back into their sport and their previous level, while others continue to battle with the disorder. At this time, there is no conclusion as to what ultimately triggers the rise of this condition and what exact treatment plans will cure it. Symptoms and treatment are extremely individualized, and it may take a bit of time to understand what customized plan works for each person. If you are experiencing any symptoms that you feel are related to chronic fatigue syndrome, it is advisable to see a doctor. The sooner you are diagnosed, the better you can control the symptoms.