Chronic fatigue syndrome is a disorder where the affected individual experiences high degrees of physical and mental exhaustion, alongside symptoms including a lack of quality sleep, muscle pains, and problems with focusing or remembering earlier events. Chronic fatigue syndrome, often referred to as CFS, is scientifically identified as myalgic encephalomyelitis, and as a result, can also be abbreviated as ME/CFS. While there isn’t a single known cause of CFS, there are several treatment options for individuals dealing with the condition’s symptoms, including therapy sessions, sleep medications, or residential treatment centers.
What Causes CFS?
Unfortunately, the cause of CFS is currently unidentified. However, researchers have many theories as to what might generate the symptoms associated with CFS and what might cause them to worsen. According to the Center for Disease Control, the causes of CFS may include viral or bacterial infections, a weakened or compromised immune system, considerable stress or physical exertion, and changes in hormone production levels. Some studies suggest that genetics may be a factor in CFS development, though this is also unconfirmed.
Risk Factors Associated With CFS
CFS is a chronic illness that’s considerably more likely to affect women than men. The disorder can affect individuals of all ages, though some studies suggest that it most often applies to people between the ages of 40 and 50. Genetics may increase the risk of developing CFS, though this is technically unconfirmed. Allergies that lower the immune system’s effectiveness are also likely to put individuals at increased risk of developing the illness. To discuss your potential risk factors related to CFS, you’ll want to speak with your general practitioner or a registered nurse.
Symptoms of CFS
Most studies surrounding CFS suggest that symptoms of the illness vary significantly from person to person. However, a few universal symptoms characterize the disorder and can help you identify when you may need to seek treatment, for yourself or others.
The experience of chronic fatigue varies from person to person, but one symptom remains present for anyone who’s affected- continuing exhaustion that sleep does little to mend. This exhaustion causes a person to feel that daily parts of their routine are outside of their average reach. Preparing food, showering, and simply getting out of bed can often feel like climbing up a mountain. Considerable physical or mental strain can heighten this feeling of exhaustion, which may lead the condition’s symptoms to worsen.
Lack of Sleep
Individuals managing the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome may also find that their normal sleep cycle is not resulting in a refresh of energy levels or general stress. This lack of quality sleep may lead other symptoms to worsen and may even lead to other related physical or mental health concerns, such as depression.
Dizziness While Moving
Simple movements and motions that might normally be considered normal may lead to severe feelings of dizziness for individuals with CFS. This dizziness, alongside musculoskeletal fatigue, is part of what makes a normal daily routine difficult to execute while managing the symptoms of CFS. Both dizziness and lack of sleep resulting from CFS tend to last at least six months, though to qualify as diagnosable symptoms, they must have occurred at a set onset rather than being a continuing feeling.
Challenges With Memory and Focus
In almost all cases, CFS makes it challenging to focus for extended periods, which can make it challenging to engage mentally at work or school. Difficulties with remembering specific details and maintaining concentration can affect the quality of the individual’s learning or interfere with various aspects of their job.
Joint or Muscle Pain
The lack of quality sleep and general exhaustion of the individual experiencing CFS may lead to various other health conditions. One of the most common symptoms of CFS that results from the other primary symptoms is joint or muscle pain, particularly while moving. This pain can make various aspects of the individual’s daily routine a challenge, including regular cardio or weightlifting exercise habits.
Chronic fatigue syndrome can be challenging to diagnose because there are a variety of other health conditions with similar symptoms and because there is no known cause of CFS. A medical professional will first rule out various other health conditions before concluding that the symptoms the individual is experiencing add up to this illness. Sleep disorders, including restless leg syndrome or general insomnia, will usually be ruled out first. Depression and other mental health concerns may have similar symptoms, depending on their severity.
Because there isn’t a known cause of CFS, and because CFS is a complex illness, most treatment reduces the severity of the individual’s symptoms rather than seeking an outright cure. Antidepressants, over-the-counter pain medications, and sleep apnea treatment may all play a part in reducing the challenges associated with managing CFS. Counseling, general therapy, and physical therapy can be valuable components of a comprehensive treatment plan. If you are dealing with the symptoms of CFS or are otherwise unsure of your current health condition, speak to your doctor as soon as you are able to discuss potential treatment options.
Questions to Ask a Medical Professional About CFS
If you schedule an appointment with a doctor or other medical professional to discuss your symptoms and potential treatment options, you may want to prepare answers to a few common questions that they might ask. These include: What are your symptoms, and how have they changed? Do you have challenges with your memory or focus? And, what does your current sleep routine look like?
In addition to answering these questions, you should ask a few questions to get a better idea of how you can alleviate symptoms at home. You may want to ask about how you can change your sleep schedule or, more generally, improve the quality of your sleep. You may also want to ask about the activity level you should aim for daily to break out of the challenges associated with CFS as soon as possible.
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