Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complicated disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that can’t be explained by any underlying medical condition. The fatigue may worsen with physical or mental activity, and it doesn’t improve with rest.
The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is unknown, although there are many theories — ranging from viral infections to psychological stress. Immune system problems and hormonal imbalances have been studied as well. Some experts believe the condition may be related to a combination of factors.
These factors may increase your risk of chronic fatigue syndrome:
- Age. Chronic fatigue syndrome most commonly affects people in their 40s and 50s.
- Sex. The condition is diagnosed much more often in women than in men.
- Stress. Difficulty managing stress may contribute to the development of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Chronic fatigue syndrome has eight official signs and symptoms, in addition to the central symptom that gives the condition its name:
- Loss of memory or concentration
- Sore throat
- Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
- Unexplained muscle pain
- Pain that moves from one joint to another without swelling or redness
- The headache of a new type, pattern or severity
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise
The experience of chronic fatigue syndrome varies from person to person. For many people, however, symptoms are more bothersome early in the course of the illness and then gradually decrease.
WHAT TESTS TO EXPECT
There’s no single test to confirm a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. You may need to undergo a variety of medical tests to rule out other health problems with similar symptoms.
Before a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome can be made, a doctor must determine your symptoms aren’t related to a sleep disorder, a mental health issue, or a medical problem such as anemia, an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) or adrenal insufficiency.
The focus of treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome is on relieving symptoms.
- Medications. Low doses of some antidepressants can help improve sleep and relieve pain, in addition to treating depression that may accompany chronic fatigue syndrome. Sleeping pills may be prescribed in certain situations.
- Therapy. The most effective treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome appears to be a two-pronged approach that combines psychological counseling with a gentle exercise program.
- Psychological counseling. A counselor can help figure out options for working around some of the limitations caused by the condition.
- Graded exercise. Exercise often improves symptoms. A physical therapist can help determine what types of exercise are best. Inactive people often begin with range-of-motion and stretching exercises. As your strength and endurance improve, you want to increase the intensity of your exercises.
Self-care. There are other steps you can take that may help relieve your symptoms. They include:
- Find ways to relax. Learn how to limit and respond to overexertion and emotional stress. And allow yourself time each day to relax. Relaxation therapies such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, massage, yoga, or tai chi may be beneficial.
- Avoid stimulants. A good night’s sleep is important. Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine can interfere with sleep.
- Pace yourself. Keep your activity at an even level. On days when you’re feeling well, try not to overdo it.
Excerpt From: The Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic A to Z Health Guide”. Apple Books.