Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a condition that causes persistent physical and mental exhaustion, impacting on a person’s ability to continue normal daily life. The exhaustion does not improve with sleep or rest, although for most sufferers the condition will gradually improve with time.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is also known as ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis). Doctors and patients use the terms chronic fatigue syndrome and ME interchangeably.

What are the symptoms?

Apart from exhaustion, CFS symptoms are wide ranging. They can include muscle and joint pain, headaches, insomnia, night sweats, dizziness, blurred vision, painful glands in the neck or armpits, memory loss and sore throat. The condition can also lead to mood swings and depression. CFS/ME symptoms can be anywhere from mild to severe.

What causes this condition?

Although chronic fatigue syndrome / ME was identified in the 1950s, doctors don’t fully understand what causes it. Some people develop it after an infection but many others have been previously fit and active. Some research suggests that the condition is linked to disorders of the immune or hormonal systems.

Who does it affect?

Estimates suggest that around 2m people in the US and around 250 000 people in the UK have chronic fatigue syndrome / ME symptoms. Research shows that women are much more likely to develop chronic fatigue syndrome / ME symptoms than men, but there is speculation that this is because many men do not admit to having the condition nor seek medical advice.

Some young teenagers develop CFS but usually it affects those from their mid 20's through to their 50's.

How do you treat chronic fatigue syndrome/ME?

There is no known cure for the condition but there are several ways to manage CFS / ME symptoms. Coping with the persistent fatigue and exhaustion is usually the top priority. Early diagnosis, balancing rest with activity and certain self-help measures as well as specialist advice can make a big difference. It’s important that any CFS / ME treatments can help maintain or even extend physical and emotional abilities. This will also help the managment of the physical and emotional impact.

CFS / ME treatments may include cognitive behavioral therapy to help change how those suffering feel about the condition. A structured and graded exercise programme, tailored to personal circumstances, may also be prescribed, such as swimming or walking.

Activity management and pacing are two other types of self help CFS / ME treatments. These enable the individual to balance their daily lives in a way that may worsen the fatigue and exhaustion, but they do foster a gradual return to normal life. When muscle or joint pain is a prominent symptom, then your doctor might suggest pain killers, but often medication is of limited use with this condition.

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