Chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as CFS, is a complicated and debilitating condition characterized by fatigue that cannot be improved by rest and is exacerbated by mental and physical activity. Symptoms affect systems throughout the body and can include weakness, muscle pain, memory or concentration problems, and insomnia. These symptoms can also lead to a lack of desire to participate in daily activities and depression.
CFS is not easily diagnosed. Before a diagnosis can be made a patient must have experienced extreme fatigue for six months or more. The doctor must also be able to rule out all other medical explanations. Many conditions have a similar profile to CFS including sleep disorders, anemia, and depression. Chronic fatigue syndrome also features several physical symptoms, which can include headaches, pain in the joints, and a sore throat. Many patients even feel flu-like symptoms at the onset of the condition which makes diagnosis difficult.
People suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome in the United States
The disorder was first named in the 1980s and at the time it was more common among men. Today, women receive the diagnosis much more frequently than men in general. There is also some debate about the official numbers of chronic fatigue syndrome patients in the U.S. It is believed to be anywhere between one and four million people suffer from the condition, including individuals who have gone undiagnosed. Children can develop CFS, but it is far less common than in adults or adolescents.
Common risk factors for chronic fatigue syndrome
Because the condition has mysterious origins, and it is difficult to diagnose symptoms, there is a lot of speculation about the risk factors for CFS. Researchers have made great strides in the study of the condition but no one has yet been able to determine a single cause.
One possibility is a viral infection. Viruses that cause herpes or Epstein Bar have been linked to chronic fatigue syndrome. Some patients may also be genetically predisposed to developing the condition due to a family history. There may also be causes related to the brain and the neurotransmitters and hormones that work together. Survivors of a traumatic event have also been known to develop chronic fatigue syndrome.
Because of these varied ideas behind the cause of CFS, treatments can be difficult. There is currently no FDA approved treatment on the market. Most doctors will work with patients to determine the right therapies to relieve the symptoms and restore as normal a life as possible.
Research on chronic fatigue syndrome and its impact on society
In February of 2014 researchers at the KILDEN Information Centre for Gender Research in Norway wanted to determine why gender scales were completely tipping for patients diagnosed with CFS. Throughout history, chronic fatigue syndrome and similar conditions were seen among men much more often. Today, more women are being diagnosed than men with the condition.
Initially the condition was believed to be physical and neurological in origin. However, with the increased diagnoses among women, it is being classified more often as a psychological disorder. Researchers were finding that women seemed to believe that something they did in their lives caused the condition to worsen. Olaug S. Lian, a sociologist on the project, noted that:
“Long-term fatigue was viewed as a legitimate disorder, a result of the heroic efforts of the upper class male. Today, it is a stigmatizing disorder, understood as an expression of women’s lack of ability to cope with their lives, a kind of breach of character.”
So, what changed? Unfortunately the differing attitudes about the cause of chronic fatigue were likely due to systemic gender inequality in society at large. The Norwegian study was designed to demonstrate the different ways in which men and women are treated by medical science.
A different approach to treating chronic fatigue syndrome
During Halloween of 2013, the Age Management Medicine Group held their conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. There the subject of telomeres was discussed. A telomere is the cap on the end of a cell. Healthy individuals have longer telomeres. However individuals with shorter telomeres are more likely to have a chronic diagnosis such as chronic fatigue syndrome.
The conference asked the question whether or not testing for telomere size was still effective or if medical professionals should focus on methods to keep them longer and healthier instead.
Maintaining healthy telomeres involves a reduction of overall inflammation, balanced hormones, and healthy blood sugar. Patients with CFS or other chronic conditions are advised to stop drinking alcohol and smoking. They are also encouraged to maintain a healthy weight, and get enough sleep, and reduce stress. Much of this can be accomplished by adapting three things into everyday life: exercise, omega 3 fatty acids, and vitamin D supplementation.
An article by Paula Masso Carnes, a patient with chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease as well as a teacher and biotech investment researcher, provides additional details from the conference.
She describes Dr. Robert Carroll discussion about ways to reduce inflammation. He suggested that removing iron from the body may provide some relief. He recommended supplements such as acetyl-l-carnitine and melatonin. He also addressed growth hormones and the role they play in treating CFS. Growth hormone can keep the brain at a normal size, prevent illnesses of the digestive track, and strengthen muscles and bones.
There is still a lot of research that needs to be done to determine a direct cause for chronic fatigue syndrome as well as treatments that are effective for patients across the board. If you have CFS you may wish you speak with your doctor about new studies and treatments that can help you maintain a healthier lifestyle. Because of the complex nature of the condition, it may also be essential to take every possible action to help maintain a healthy balance. Holistic and pharmaceutical therapies may both play into increased relief from chronic fatigue syndrome.
You may also wish to join a support group in your area or online. Depression is common among individuals with a chronic fatigue syndrome diagnosis, so discussing the condition with others who experience similar symptoms may be an important source of strength.
We want to know more about your experience: how do you cope with chronic fatigue syndrome in your life and what would you like to see more of in regards to available treatments?
Image by Alyssa L. Miller via Flickr