Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) was once a very misunderstood illness. Initially referred to as ‘Yuppie Flu,” this debilitating syndrome was overlooked for years as simply “being tired” from working too hard for too long. Thankfully, however, it is now appreciated as legitimate and severe illness. As its name implies, one of the most common symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is extreme tiredness. There are, however, many other symptoms too.
Common Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
CFS is a long-term illness characterised by ongoing tiredness that getting more sleep or resting doesn’t relieve. It can affect anyone, at any time, although it’s more common in women, and tends to develop between your mid-20s and mid-40s.
Symptoms usually start suddenly, although some people find they develop gradually over weeks or even months. Symptoms are often erratic and can stop (remission) and start (relapse) with no obvious trigger pattern.
Apart from chronic tiredness, and a general feeling of being unwell, there is a broad range of other symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. However, most sufferers experience a core set of symptoms:
- Muscle or joint pain
- Sleep problems
- A sore throat, or sore glands
- Cognitive impairment, such as problems remembering, thinking or concentrating
- Nausea and dizziness
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Flu-like symptoms
Strenuous exercise frequently makes these symptoms worse, but they can vary generally in severity from day to day – or even within a single day. Of course, many of the symptoms of chronic fatigue symptoms are also symptoms of other illnesses, so it’s important not to self-diagnose. If you suspect you may have CFS, make an appointment to see your healthcare practitioner and preferably a practitioner who sub-specializes in CFS, such as an integrative medicine (or functional medicine) physician.
Isolating The Symptoms Of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Accurately diagnosing CFS means definitively ruling out other possible causes for your chronic fatigue. This could include tests to check for thyroid disorders, adrenal and liver problems, HIV, AIDS or cancer. There isn’t a specific test to diagnose CFS, so doctors base their diagnosis based on the types of symptoms you have, and the severity of each one.
Chronic tiredness lasting between six months and a year is often a symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome. Your doctor will determine whether the fatigue and “run down” feeling stemmed from a previous infection, and if it continued after other symptoms of that infection had long since cleared up. He or she may order antibody tests to confirm whether you indeed had a prior infection, such as Epstein-Barr virus, Lyme disease, chlamydia or pneumonia.
Being excessively tired after exercise (post-exertional fatigue) is also common with CFS. Many sufferers find that normal activity, which didn’t previously tire them, is now exhausting. Feeling tired even after long periods of sleep or rest are also common.
Many people with CFS complain of problems with short-term memory. Their long-term memory, however, remains unimpaired. Sometimes, CFS sufferers find it hard to think of, or enunciate, a particular word during normal speech. We call this verbal dyslexia or dysnomia.
Many people with CFS become depressed, but depression on its own is not a symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome. CFS-induced depression arises from sufferers who have difficulty performing properly at work, or from not being able to participate in normal home-life activities.
Confirming A Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Diagnosis
To be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, you must have at least two of the above-mentioned symptoms, of which one must be cognitive impairment or dysfunction. Blood tests also aid in making a definitive diagnosis. A common finding among CFS sufferers is that they have a low erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR). This is the measurement of settling red blood cells in anticoagulated blood. An elevated or high ESR indicates your symptoms are likely not caused by Chronic Fatigue.
This is not the only test, nor is it definitive. Other blood tests include blood circulation and inflammation tests, toxicity and heavy metals tests, allergy and sensitivity tests, thyroid and adrenal hormones tests, candida test, immune system and nutritional tests.
Sometimes doctors like to perform certain scans to rule out central nervous system disorders. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome sufferers will have normal CT and MRI scans. Occasionally, however, other scans (such as single-photon emission computed tomography and/or positron emission tomography scans) show decreased blood flow to certain parts of the brain, which could explain the short-term memory problems CFS patients experience.