Being tired has become a cultural symbol for many people in America. It seems like somehow, the more tired you are, the more you can wear it as a badge of honor.
The reality is, being tired all the time shouldn’t be normalized, nor should it be celebrated.
Fatigue can cause serious problems. For example, being tired while you’re driving is one of the biggest causes of deadly accidents.
The risks of fatigued driving are even more significant when truck drivers are tired. They’re in charge of massive vehicles, and being fatigued when operating them can have disastrous consequences.
Not getting enough sleep is also associated with a weakened immune system and many chronic health conditions.
Sometimes, what many people don’t realize is that fatigue can actually be caused by an underlying health condition.
One such condition is chronic fatigue syndrome or CFS. When you recognize the symptoms of CFS, you might be able to take steps to help yourself.
What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Chronic fatigue syndrome or CFS is a disorder characterized by being extremely tired or fatigued.
It’s a level of fatigue that doesn’t go away even if you get rest, and it can’t be attributed to other underlying medical conditions.
Doctors and researchers don’t yet know what causes CFS, but there are some theories including viral infection, psychological elements, or maybe a combination. It’s also referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis or systemic exertion intolerance disease.
Other possible contributors that researchers are looking at include a weakened immune system, stress, or hormonal imbalances. Some people could be genetically predisposed to the condition too.
Viral infections that have been looked at as far as a link to CFS include Epstein-Barr virus, human herpesvirus 6, rubella virus, and Ross River virus.
Bacterial infections caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Coxiella burnetii have also been studied for potential links to CFS.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that CFS might be the end-stage of different conditions and not one specific condition.
The age group that seems to be most commonly affected by CFS are people in their 40s and 50s.
Women are anywhere from two to four times more likely to be diagnosed than men, and things like environmental factors and genetic predisposition could be risk factors.
Signs and Symptoms
The extreme fatigue of CFS lasts for at least six months. It worsens with mental or physical activity and doesn’t improve with rest.
Other symptoms of CFS can include not feeling refreshed after sleep, problems with concentration, memory, and focus, and dizziness that gets worse when you move from sitting or lying down to a standing position.
There may be other seemingly unrelated symptoms such as enlarged lymph nodes in the armpits or neck, sore throat, headaches, and unexplained joint or muscle pain.
How is CFS Diagnosed?
Diagnosing CFS is complex because there’s a lot that’s not understood about this condition.
Symptoms often look similar to many other conditions.
For example, chronic fatigue can be similar to a sleep disorder as far as symptoms. Sleep disorders include restless leg syndrome, insomnia, and obstructive sleep apnea.
Some of the medical problems that can be similar in CFS, at least based on symptoms, are anemia, hypothyroidism and diabetes. If you tell your doctor that you have persistent fatigue, blood tests will likely be done to check for other disorders first.
Fatigue is also one of the symptoms of most mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression.
Frequently, people with CFS have co-occurring disorders like anxiety, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and sleep disorders.
The United States Institute of medicine has diagnostic criteria for CFS that include fatigue that’s so severe it interferes with daily activities. A new onset or a definitive onset is another criteria, as is fatigue that’s worsened by physical, emotional, or mental exertion.
How Is It Treated?
As it stands right now, there isn’t a specific CFS cure. Instead, treatment might rely on various options combined and based on the individual’s needs.
For example, if a doctor believes you have CFS, they could start with lifestyle changes. This might mean that you try to avoid alcohol and nicotine as well as caffeine. Your doctor might advise you to work on developing a healthy sleep routine.
For many people with CFS, trying to exercise too aggressively worsens the symptoms, but light activities that start with low intensities can be helpful for symptoms. You can then work to gradually increase how strenuous your workouts are.
Your doctor could advise you to talk to a counselor. Counselors can help with co-occurring mental health disorders, and they can also help you develop coping mechanisms that will work in your life and for your needs.
Post-exertional malaise is a term you could hear along with CFS. Post-exertional malaise is a condition where your symptoms get worse after even minor exertion. Even just an overload of sound or light can trigger PEM in some people.
There are a few ways you can learn to manage PEM.
Activity management is one way. It’s also referred to as pacing. With pacing, you’re working to balance your rest and activity.
You need to find your own personal limits for any physical or mental activity so that you know what your limitations are and you can stay within them.
If you believe that you could have CFS before you go see your doctor, you might consider keeping a journal for at least a few weeks. You can include your symptoms, sleep habits, and anything else that you think could be relevant.
Again, since CFS is so challenging to diagnose, by having this information ready, it can help your doctor.
If you have CFS, it is undoubtedly a challenge to deal with, and it’s a condition that we don’t have a lot of answers about right now, but even so you should still talk to your doctor to see if that’s truly your diagnosis and whether or not there’s any treatment available in your situation.