Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a complex physical and perhaps psychological disorder where one experiences abnormal fatigue or tiredness which cannot be ascribed to any tangible medical causes and which is not relieved by adequate rest. This complex of symptoms is also sometimes referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis or ME. The World Health Organization lists it as a disorder of the nervous system, but the scientific and medical fraternity is yet to ascertain any clear-cut cause or etiology for this syndrome, and to date no authoritative diagnostic tools or markers have been established. However, research over the last couple of decades has helped identify some broad causative factors, as well as diagnostic criteria that helps arrive at a diagnosis by ruling out other conditions.
Research has not been able to establish a cause for chronic fatigue syndrome. Various studies propose etiologic factors as a cause, but to date none of these has been proven conclusively. What is accepted by all is that certain individuals are more prone to acquiring this condition than others. Here are some of the causative factors that have been most commonly linked to chronic fatigue syndrome.
1. Viral infections
It has been found that a statistically significant number of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome have had a viral infection just prior to developing symptoms. This has also led to the theory that the condition might actually be a post-viral infection condition, which would imply a re-examination of the entire premise of research and treatment methods focusing on the psychosomatic nature of this syndrome.
2. Immune disorders
It has been documented that immune systems of patients with this syndrome are slightly impaired compared to the average population. The jury is still out as to whether this is caused by the condition or is a causative factor.
3. Hormone imbalances
Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome have been found to have abnormalities in their blood levels for hormones. Once again, there has been no conclusion as to how this relates to the etiology of the condition.
What research has been able to establish is that there are certain sections of the population that are more prone to developing this condition than others, though it is still uncertain why this is so. In terms of age, it has been found that most patients reporting these symptoms are in the 40-50 years age group. More cases of women than men have been documented, though many researchers believe that this could be because women may be more forthcoming in reporting fatigue symptoms than men. Incidence of obesity, sedentary lifestyles, and high stress lifestyles is high among patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.
The symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome revolve around the basic condition of unexplained fatigue. The other symptoms include memory loss and difficulty, concentrating on tasks, sore throat and hoarseness of voice, inflamed neck and armpit lymph nodes, chronic muscle pain, migratory joint pains without accompanying inflammation or erythema (swelling or redness), new onset headache, not feeling fresh after rising from insufficient sleep, and post-exercise physical or mental exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours. Unexplained stomach pain, morning stiffness, nausea, and dizziness are also seen in patients suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.
There is no single diagnostic tool for chronic fatigue syndrome. Instead what clinicians do is rule out all other possible explanations. This can take time and test your patience, but there really is no other way to reach a conclusive diagnosis, and it is possible that along the route, they will be able to pinpoint some other condition that is causing your symptom and be able to treat you better. Some of the conditions they will try to exclude from a possible diagnosis include sleep disorders like sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome and insomnia, disease processes like anemia, diabetes, and hypothyroidism, and mental conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, and schizophrenia. In the absence of any other explanation for your symptoms, and in the event of at least four classic symptoms mentioned above lasting more than six months, your physician will usually diagnose condition as chronic fatigue syndrome.
The standard treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome includes a combination of medication, counseling, cognitive behavioral therapies, and lifestyle modifications. Counseling is offered to help patients to learn strategies of pacing, or gradually making behavioral changes that keep pace with the impaired exercise recovery level of patients. Cognitive behavior therapy has been found to be most effective as patients learn to identify and understand their condition and lead their lives with this new perspective. Lifestyle modifications using the principles of pacing and the understanding of their personal limitations help in reducing the stress of managing the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.
The medications prescribed for chronic fatigue syndrome are usually targeted at symptomatic manifestations of the disease, along with helping reinforce the healing mechanism of rest and stress reduction. Typically, painkillers, sleep medication and antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications are prescribed for symptoms.
With little conclusive evidence as to what causes this widespread disease condition, prevention is as good as impossible for chronic fatigue syndrome. In addition, recent studies have indicated that this condition is far more prevalent than thought earlier, with statistical data showing that up to 3 percent of adult population might be suffering from it. This has led to greater focus on understanding and defining this condition more accurately, and as some advocacy groups insist, more humanely. Most studies also conclude that this is a chronic disease and can at best be managed, and not fully cured. With accurate and timely diagnosis, aggressive behavioral therapy, and lifestyle modification, however, most patients have been found to be able to resume normal and productive social lives.