by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Chronic fatigue syndrome also known as CFS is a medical condition that can be extremely debilitating. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome causes overwhelming persistent fatigue that interferes with the activities of daily living and doesn’t improve with rest or sleep. It is defined as “a state of chronic fatigue that exists without other explanation for 6 months or more and is accompanied by cognitive difficulties. It is estimated that CFS affects over 1 million Americans.
The cause of CFS is unknown, however, there are several viruses and their effect on the immune system that are thought to play a role in causing CFS. One of them being the Epstein-Bar virus (EBV) that causes mononucleosis. CFS can range from mild to debilitatingly severe. In mild CFS you are able to take care of yourself and perform your activities of daily living though it is possible you may need to take time off work to rest. In moderate CFS the symptoms may vary, your mobility could be impaired as well as disturbances in your sleep patterns. In the most severe cases you become unable to perform the activities of daily living and require bedrest for a significant part of the day. Intolerance to noise and bright light is also common in severe cases of CFS.
In addition to severe chronic fatigue the symptoms of CFS include; pronounced difficulty with concentration and short term memory, a sore throat with tender lymph nodes, joint and muscle pain without the inflammation associated with arthritis, headaches and extreme tiredness that continue even 24 hrs or more after exercise.
Diagnosing CFS is difficult as there are no laboratory tests or other tests specific for CFS. If you think you may have CFS you should consult you doctor. There are certain criteria that the doctor will consider. The first is the fatigue; how long have had the fatigue? Can you recall a specific time when it started? Is it worse after activity? How much does it interfere with your activities of daily diving? Then, how many of the other symptoms are you experiencing? The approved criteria for diagnosis is that you experience at least four other symptoms “simultaneously.” After the doctor has done a complete physical exam and obtained a complete and accurate medical history tests will be ordered to rule out other diseases. A diagnosis of CFS is only made after ruling out other causes.
Without a known cause there is no cure for CFS. Treatments focus on maintaining and improving your level of functioning both physically and mentally. The most important thing anyone diagnosed with CFS can learn is the importance of balancing rest and activity to achieve an optimal level of functioning. Exercise and activity is very beneficial to a point, in CFS it is just as important to avoid over exercising as under exercising. Stress is a part of our everyday lives and developing a stress management program that works for you is important for everyone, but for the person suffering with CFS it is crucial as stress can trigger attacks of severe fatigue as well as worsen other symptoms.
A healthy well balanced diet avoiding processed foods and saturated fats should also be a part of your treatment plan. A diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables can improve your energy level and help you sleep.
Medications are used only to treat the symptoms of CFS. Many people suffering with CFS are sensitive to certain medications so always use caution and notify your Dr if you plan to use any over the counter medications like NSAID’s. The doctor may order a low dose of a tricyclic antidepressant like elavil to help you sleep. Depending on the severity of your symptoms and the degree to which they interfere with your activities of daily living the doctor may order other medications.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.