Chronic fatigue syndrome is a very complicated disorder which is characterized by extreme fatigue which cannot be medically explained by any underlying conditions. This fatigue may even worsen with mental or physical activity, but will also not improve with rest. Causes of chronic fatigue syndrome are unknown, although several theories suggest, that these range psychological stress to viral infections in patients. Moreover, some experts believe that chronic fatigue syndrome may be triggered by a combination of factors. However, there is no single test which can confirm diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. Patients may be required to undergo a variety of medical tests to rule out any other health problems which may be having similar symptoms. Nevertheless, treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome generally focuses on symptom relief.
Signs & Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome is having eight officially recognized signs & symptoms along with the central symptom which gives this condition the name it has.
- Sore throat
- Loss of concentration or memory
- Unexplained muscle pain
- Enlarged lymph nodes in armpits or neck
- Pain which moves from one joint to another without redness or swelling
- Un-refreshing sleep
- New type, pattern or severity of headaches
- Extreme exhaustion which lasts for more than 24 hours following mental or physical exercise
Seeking Professional Help for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Fatigue can often be a symptom for many types of illnesses, like for infections or many types of psychological disorders. In general, patients must see the doctor in case they are having excessive or persistent fatigue.
Causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Scientists however, do not still know as to what exactly causes chronic fatigue syndrome. This condition may include a combination of various factors which affect people born with a predisposition for this disorder. Nevertheless, some factors which have been researched include the following.
- Viral Infections – Researchers often question whether there are some viruses which may be triggering this disorder as some people are found to develop chronic fatigue syndrome after having been attacked by a viral infection. Most suspicious viruses include mouse leukemia virus, human herpes virus 6 & Epstein-Barr virus. However, as of now no conclusive link has been found.
- Problems with Immune System – Immune system of people having chronic fatigue syndrome typically appear to be slightly impaired, but it is however unclear as if this impairment is good enough to actually cause this disorder.
- Hormonal Imbalances – People having chronic fatigue syndrome also at times experience abnormal levels of hormones in blood produced by adrenal glands & pituitary glands in hypothalamus region. However, significance of these abnormalities is not yet known.
Risk Factors Associated with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Factors which increase risk of chronic fatigue syndrome in people include the following.
- Age – Chronic fatigue syndrome is found to occur among people of all ages, but is most common among people between 40 – 50 years of age.
- Sex – Number of women patients diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome is much more than men diagnosed with the same disorder. However, this fact may simply be because women are more likely to report their symptoms to doctors.
- Stress – Difficulty in managing stress of modern living may also be contributing to development of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Risks & Complications of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Complications which are possible of chronic fatigue syndrome include the following.
- Increased work absence
- Lifestyle restrictions
- Social isolation
Initial Appointment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
People having signs & symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome are most likely to start by seeing a general practitioner of family doctor who may eventually refer them to a specialist doctor like a rheumatologist. It may be sensible to take along a friend or a family member during the initial appointment with the specialist doctor since it may be difficult to absorb or remember all information which was provided during the session. Someone accompanying the patients can help them later to remember something that they have missed or forgotten during the appointment.
- How Patients Can Prepare for the Initial Appointment
Patients may want to make a list prior to the appointment & which includes the following.
- Signs & Symptoms – Being thorough pays. Although fatigue may be the most prominent factor affecting patients, other symptoms like headache or memory problems are quite important & must be shared with the doctors.
- Key Personal Information – These must include major stressors or recent changes in life which play a real role in physical well-being of the patient.
- General Health Information – This list must include other conditions for which the patient is being treated along with names of medications, supplements & vitamins which they regularly take.
- List of Questions to Ask Doctors – Creating a personal list of questions in advance can help patients make the most of their time with the specialist doctor. This is doubly important as patients may not remember all questions they wanted to ask with the specialist doctor & their time with them is most often limited. However, some basic questions they should be asking doctors regarding chronic fatigue syndrome include the following.
- What possibly are causes of my condition or symptoms?
- Which tests do you recommend I undergo?
- Which additional tests will I need in case these do not pinpoint the cause of my symptoms?
- On what basis would you make a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome?
- What type of treatments or lifestyle changes would you recommend for my signs & symptoms?
- What level of activity should I aim for while seeking diagnosis?
- Would you recommend I also consult a mental health provider?
- Can you provide me with any printed material or brochures on the subject that I can take with me?
- Which websites do you recommend I visit for further information?
Moreover, patients should not hesitate asking any number of other questions as they occur during the initial appointment for chronic fatigue syndrome.
- What Doctors Like to Know From Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Patients
Doctors usually like to ask a number of questions to patients during the initial appointment, including the following.
- What type of symptoms are you having & when did they initially begin?
- Is there anything which makes your symptoms better or worse?
- Are you having any problems with memory or concentration?
- Are you having any trouble with sleeping?
- How often is it that you feel anxious or depressed?
- How much is it that your symptoms are limiting your ability to function? Like for example did you ever have to miss school or work because of symptoms?
- Which type of treatments have you tried so far for this condition & how much have they proved to be useful?
Tests & Diagnosis for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
There is no single test which can confirm diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. Moreover, signs & symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome can mimic several other health problems, patients will need a lot of patience while waiting for diagnosis. Doctors would usually rule out a number of various other illnesses prior to diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome. Some of these generally include the following.
- Sleep Disorders – Chronic fatigue can also be sometimes caused by sleep disorders. Therefore, sleep studies can ideally determine whether rest is being disturbed by disorders like insomnia, restless legs syndrome & obstructive sleep apnea.
- Medical Problems – Fatigue in fact is a common symptom of several medical conditions like hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), diabetes & anemia. Laboratory tests can usually check blood for evidence of the above mentioned suspects.
- Mental Health Issues – Fatigue is generally also a symptom of various other mental health problems like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety & depression. Counselors can however help determine if any one of these problems are causing fatigue in patients.
- Diagnostic Criteria for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Any patient must be having unexplained persistent fatigue for at least 6 months or more along with a minimum of 4 of the following signs & symptoms so as to meet diagnostic criteria of chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Unexplained muscle pain
- Sore throat
- Loss of memory or concentration
- Enlarged lymph nodes in armpits or neck
- Pain which moves from one joint to another without any redness or swelling
- Un-refreshing sleep
- New type, pattern or severity of headache
- Extreme exhaustion which is lasting more than 24 hours following mental or physical exercise
Treatments & Drugs for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome would generally focus on symptom relief.
- Medications – Since chronic fatigue syndrome generally affects people in many different ways, treatments would therefore be tailored to every patient’s specific set of symptom. Most system relief treatments would generally include certain medications mentioned below.
- Antidepressants – Many people having chronic fatigue syndrome are also found to be depressed. Treating depression therefore can make it easier for the patient to cope with problems associated with chronic fatigue syndrome. For this reason some antidepressants would generally help relieve pain & improve sleep.
- Sleeping Pills – When home measures like avoiding caffeine are unable to help get better rest at night, doctors would often suggest tring prescription sleeping pills.
- Therapy – Most effective treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome seems to be a two-pronged approach which combines a gentle exercise program with psychological counseling.
- Graded Exercise – Physical therapists can generally help determine as to which types of exercise are best suited for a patient. Inactive people most often begin with stretching & range-of-motion exercises for just a few minutes every day. In case patients are exhausted the next day following exercises, they must understand they are doing too much to start with. However, endurance & strength of patients will improve as they gradually increase intensity of exercise over time.
- Psychological Counseling – Speaking with a psychological counselor will help patients figure out options to work around some limitations which chronic fatigue syndrome imposes on them. They will feel more in control of their life & which can dramatically improve the outlook.
- Lifestyle Changes & Home Remedies – Certain self-care measures which can be helpful for chronic fatigue syndrome patients.
- Reduce Stress – Developing a plan which can help either limit or avoid overexertion & emotional stress can be extremely helpful. Chronic fatigue syndrome patients, must allow themselves time to relax every day. This will eventually mean learning to say no to people without feeling guilty.
- Improving Sleeping Habits – Chronic fatigue syndrome patients must go to bed & get up at the same time each day. They should also limit daytime napping & avoid caffeine, nicotine & alcohol.
- Maintaining Pace – Chronic fatigue syndrome patients must also keep their routine activities on an even level. When they try to have too much on good days, they may end up having more on bad days.
- Alternative Medicine – There are several alternative therapies which have been promoted for chronic fatigue syndrome. However, most often it is difficult to determine whether these therapies actually work, partly due to symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome which are closely linked to mood & can also vary from one day to another. Nevertheless, pain which is associated with chronic fatigue syndrome can be effectively helped by the following practices of alternative medicine.
- Tai chi
Coping & Support for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Experience of chronic fatigue syndrome generally varies from one person to another. However, for many patients signs & symptoms are more bothersome at the beginning of the course of illness & then will gradually decrease. Counseling & emotional support will normally help patients & their loved ones deal with restrictions & uncertainties of chronic fatigue syndrome. It would also prove to be therapeutic for patients to join support groups where they can meet other people with chronic fatigue syndrome. However, support groups may not be for everyone as some chronic fatigue syndrome patients may find these support groups to be adding to stress rather than relieving it. Therefore, it would be ideal that patients should experiment & use their own judgment so as to determine what is best in each case.
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