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Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disorder that causes severe and potentially debilitating fatigue. Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome can also experience muscle weakness, changes in mental capacity/memory, insomnia, and joint/muscle pain.
An estimated 800,000 adults in the US suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, though only 20% receive proper diagnosis and treatment.
Scientists and medical experts are unsure of the exact cause of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). The following are the leading theories on the causes of CFS:
Viral infection. Some studies suggest a link between CFS and certain viral infections including Epstein-Barr (virus responsible for mononucleosis among other health conditions), coxsackie B, xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV).
Genes. CFS has been found to be associated with certain genes that control the body’s response to trauma and immune system function among other things.
Certain health conditions. Some believe that the following health conditions may contribute to the development of CFS in affected individuals, as they often occur along with the condition:
Hormone/Neurochemical abnormalities. Some studies have shown CFS to be associated with imbalances in neurotransmitters (the brain’s communication chemicals) as well as abnormalities in the section of the brain responsible for regulating sleep patterns and deficiencies in stress hormones such as cortisol
The following factors can influence your risk of developing CFS:
Previous exposure to viruses. Individuals who have previously been infected with any of the following viruses are more likely to develop CFS:
Sex. Women are more often affected than men. As many as 4 out of 5 CFS patients are women.
Age. CFS most often develops in individuals from the ages of 40-60.
Genetics. CFS has been linked to several genes relating to immune function and trauma response, though it is not known to what degree the condition is hereditary.
Existing health conditions. Certain health conditions increase an individual’s risk of developing CFS. These include:
Because little is known about chronic fatigue syndrome and its category of symptoms are so broad, CFS can be a very difficult to diagnosis. The CDC recommends the following procedure for diagnosing CFS:
Medical history and physical examination. This will help your doctor better understand your risk of developing the disease as well as identify other possible causes of your symptoms.
Mental health assessment. Since CFS is often related to and shares symptoms with mental illnesses, your doctor will briefly assess the state of your mental health.
Assessment of patient’s condition in relation to CFS diagnostic criteria. A patient is said to have CFS if he/she meets the following criteria:
The following symptoms may be signs of chronic fatigue syndrome:
The prognosis for chronic fatigue syndrome depends on the patient and the severity of the symptoms. Some patients find that their symptoms improve simply with physical therapies and behavioral counseling, while others find that they improve with medications or a combination of medication and therapies/counseling. Unfortunately for some, neither medication nor therapy helps with CFS symptoms.
The following tips can help make living with CFS more manageable:
Chronic fatigue syndrome is not screened for. If you believe you are experiencing any of the symptoms of Chronic fatigue syndrome, schedule an appointment with your doctor.
The treatment methods for CFS vary greatly depending on the doctor’s assessment of the patient and the severity of the symptoms. Many treatment plans combine medications, behavioral and physical therapy, and diet/lifestyle changes.
The following medications are available to help control CFS symptoms:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs(NSAIDs), which can help manage pain. These include:
Selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which serve as a mood regulator. These include:
COX-2 Inhibitors, which serve an anti-inflammatory purpose in the body. The most common of COX-2 inhibitors is Celecoxib (Celebrex).
In addition to medication, a range of therapies may also be useful in managing CFS symptoms. These include:
The following alternative treatments may be helpful in reducing CFS symptoms:
Mind/body techniques such as:
Dietary supplements, including:
Herbal supplements. The following herbs have been found to be mood and energy regulators:
*Check with your doctor before beginning any sort of alternative treatment regimen. Many alternative supplements may interact with prescribed medications, causing potentially serious side effects.
The following tips can help you better care for your loved one with chronic fatigue syndrome:
If you experience many of the following symptoms over a course of several months, contact your doctor. This may be a sign of chronic fatigue syndrome:
If you are undergoing treatment for CFS, contact your doctor if you experience any of the following:
These may be a sign of a severe reaction to your medications
To find a doctor who specializes in CFS, visit FM/CFS/ME Resources.
You may want to ask your doctor the following questions upon your CFS diagnosis:
For more information on CFS, visit:
For more information on finding CFS doctors as well as tips on living with CFS, visit FM/CFS/ME Resources.
For more information about the prevalence of CFS, visit New Study Finds High Prevalence of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
For more information on CFS support groups, visit CFIDS & FIBROMYALGIA Self-Help.
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