Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a relatively rare condition and is thought to affect around 250,000 people in the UK. It is more common in women than men, which may be due to fewer men seeking help for it. CFS usually develops between the 20’s and mid 40’s, although it can also affect children, usually in the early to mid teen years.
What is CFS?
CFS is also known as ME, which stands for ‘Myalgia Encephalomyelitis’, Myalgia means muscle pain and Encephalomyelitis means inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. CFS is a debilitating condition in which the person affected suffers with long-term, severe mental and physical exhaustion that does not improve with rest but deteriorates even further with exertion. For this condition to be diagnosed as CFS, other illnesses or conditions must be ruled out and the exhaustion must be constantly prevalent for at least six months, accompanied by other symptoms.
CFS is categorized by the World Health Organisation under ‘diseases of the nervous system’.
The onset of CFS is usually quite sudden, displaying flu-like symptoms. It often materialises following a viral infection or extreme stress, and tends to be more common in winter, though this may be due to infections being more common in winter.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding CFS. Some health professionals do not take the condition seriously and question its very existence.
The severity of CFS, as with most ailments, varies greatly. Some patients can lead fairly normal lives and follow their usual routine whereas others are totally bed-bound.
Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Extreme tiredness (not like usual tiredness- after sleeping the tiredness does not ease)
- Muscular and joint pain
- Disturbed sleep and insomnia
- Sore throat
- Poor memory and concentration
- Confusion with words and organisation
- Painful lymph nodes
- Stomach problems such as constipation, diarrhoea and nausea
- An intolerance to light, noise, certain foods or alcohol
- Other disabilities (sometimes as a result of the ME) such as depression and anxiety
What Causes CFS/ME?
There is no known cause for CFS although there are a few theories as to what causes it. As mentioned earlier, it is often thought that CFS can develop following a viral infection. It is common after some viral infections to suffer with fatigue once all of the other symptoms have subsided, but unlike CFS this doesn’t usually last for more than a few weeks.
Some experts believe that those who are fixated upon and obsess about their condition can actually worsen their symptoms, also lack of support from family and friends can delay recovery.
It is also thought that factors such as genetics, stress, depression or a traumatic event, such as the death of a family member, can also contribute to developing CFS.
As well as these possible causes of CFS, there are also a few things that seem to aggravate the condition further;
- Too much or too little exercise
- Recurring viral infections
- Recurring bacterial infections
- Being socially isolated, feeling depressed
There is no cure for CFS and so the treatment used is in an effort to ease its symptoms. It seems that the most effective treatment is a combination of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) with a stepped exercise programme. CBT focuses on helping patients understand their symptoms and beliefs and offers coping strategies to improve their day to day life.
Stepped exercise programmes can be effective, gradually increasing physical activity and improving fitness. A technique called ‘pacing’ is also used, where patients with CFS are encouraged and taught to establish a balance between rest and physical activity, usually living within the limitations of the condition. Support from family and friends is an important part of managing this illness.
Other things can be done to make living with CFS easier; managing sleep is crucial, managing rest and having regular rest intervals can be very beneficial and relaxation can help reduce anxiety and pain. Lastly, having a balanced diet is very important, ensuring that any foods which cause sensitivity are omitted.
People with CFS are sometimes more prone to depression and so antidepressants may be used.
If you are concerned that you or someone you know may require help and advice please call the Via Clinic on 01372 363939