Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is also sometimes known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). It presents as a range of varied symptoms that cause extreme mental and physical fatigue and tiredness that does not get any better after rest and often interferes with the sufferer`s daily routine.

The onset of CFS often occurs after an illness or sometimes after an operation or trauma. The symptoms of CFS can vary and as a result it can often cause uncertainty around the diagnosis and even other people believing that there is something else the matter with the health of the individual suffering from it.

However, it is a genuine and very debilitating condition. CFS is known to be more common in women than in men and children can sometimes suffer from it. It is thought to affect around 250,000 people in the UK alone, to varying degrees.

The fatigue caused by CFS is different to the normal tiredness that everyone experiences. It makes you less likely to cope with everyday, normal levels of activity. Such a mundane occurrence as making a meal or getting dressed may cause extreme exhaustion. There are some common symptoms of CFS which can occur anytime up to 48 hours after physical or mental activity including:

  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Painful or swollen glands
  • Headaches
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue or tiredness that lasts longer than 24 hours at a sustained level that you may have previously been able to deal with
  • Memory loss
  • Disturbances to sleep or waking feeling tired
  • Flu - like symptoms
  • Balance problems
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms
  • Dizziness
  • Sweats
  • Palpitations
  • Mood swings and depression

This list of symptoms is not conclusive and many people with CFS will find that their set of symptoms fluctuate or can come and go, with them often returning after a bout of illness. If you experience these symptoms, it is a good idea to visit your GP.

While doctors don`t understand what causes CFS, there are several theories as to why it occurs, even in previously fit people. Researchers propose that it could be caused by underlying immune system or hormonal system disorders. This can make CFS difficult to diagnose but it is essential that you are proactive in seeing your GP in the first instance. It may take several visits to the GP before anything definite is diagnosed.

There are no specific tests to diagnose CFS and your GP will first of all rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. Your GP will also look at your medical history and undertake routine tests such as blood and urine tests to aid diagnosis. In addition, your GP may refer you to a specialist who has extensive knowledge in this area and in the case of children with a possible CFS diagnosis; they will be referred to a paediatrician. Once a positive diagnosis has been made, your GP will give you the information and support you need to manage and treat your CFS.

As everyone`s symptoms can be different, there is no specific treatment for CFS. Your GP may prescribe any one or combination of:

Self help

Learning to manage your lifestyle and sleep will help you live a fuller life. Solutions such as a warm bath or milk drink before bed work for some people but it is about what works for you. There is no universal set of rules so trial and error is the key here. Managing your levels of activity is also helpful and prioritising your daily tasks will help. Set goals to achieve and making sure that you take plenty of rest is essential to most people. Slowly, build up activity levels until you reach the threshold of what is comfortable for you to do. A balanced and healthy diet is essential and it is worth trying gentle stretching and massage to help relive aches and pains.

Medicines

Your GP may recommend medicines such as low doses of painkillers and on occasion anti depressants. Talk to your GP and always use medicines under their direction.

Complementary therapies

Herbal remedies, relaxation therapy and certain food supplements may also be used.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Uses structured techniques, your CBT therapist aims to change or challenge behaviours and thoughts that may hinder your recovery and progress.

Your pharmacy can also be a useful source of information as well as your local health care provider.


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