Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a disorder of many names. It is also known as Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS) and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME). Whatever it is referred to as, CFS is a complex, chronic illness that affects the entire body, including the brain. The immune system is especially affected by this disorder as well, compromising general health and necessitating treatment.
In comparison to other illnesses, CFS is extremely rare, only occurring in 7 to 3,000 out of 100,000 individuals. Full recovery is extremely rare, but treatment can help improve the quality of life for individuals who experience this disorder. The chronic pain associated with CFS is often the most troubling component of the disorder as well, necessitating solutions for what can sometimes be long-term problems.
What Characterizes CFS?
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome most frequently occurs in women between the ages of 30 and 50, although virtually anyone can develop it.
CFS is characterized by tremendous fatigue, experienced as enormous exhaustion and excessively poor stamina that never dissipates, regardless of the amount of sleep a person may get. Unfortunately for those who suffer from this disorder, there is no specific cause or diagnosis, making treatment and coping extremely difficult. The ailment itself expresses itself through flu-like symptoms, worsening quickly and debilitating those who come down with the disorder.
There have been biological, genetic, psychological and infectious proposals made as to what the etiology of CFS truly is. There is no consensus on this point, however, leaving the true background of the disorder a mystery.
Symptoms of the Syndrome
Beginning as something like the flu, CFS escalates quickly from its less severe symptoms of minor pain in the joints and muscles, problems with concentration and short-term memory, a sore throat and headaches. These symptoms vary widely in the severity experienced by each individual, which in turn affects the treatment that will be most effective.
There are many other symptoms that also have a substantial effect on the lives of those with CFS. Because the brain is affected by this condition, the ability to comprehend and retain information, as well as reason or make proper judgments is compromised. Psychological problems such as depression, anxiety and mood swings are often experienced as well.
Physical symptoms can be much more extreme. Abdominal pain, balance problems, dizziness, chest pains and irregular heartbeat are just some of the common components of this disorder. Accompanying these symptoms can be light-headedness, fainting and seizures, making it difficult to execute even the most basic of tasks. CFS is truly life altering, compromising one’s ability to lead the life they once enjoyed.
Difficult to Diagnose: How to Know if CFS is the Problem
With no clear indication of what causes CFS, diagnosing the disorder can be a real problem. The process itself is both difficult and time-consuming. Ultimately, it is often the result of simply eliminating the possibility of the symptoms resulting from other illnesses that are better known.
The process of diagnosis is tedious, involving a doctor that will ask questions about a patient’s medical history, past health and current health, both mental and physical. Because of the necessity to rule out other health conditions, a general exam, blood tests and tests specific to disorders such as Lyme Disease and Hypothyroidism are to be expected.
There is a diagnostic criteria in existence for CFS, requiring that a minimum of four out of eight symptoms be present for a positive diagnosis to be achieved. The symptoms themselves must be in occurrence for at least six months as well, which can leave many people in distress over their prospect for immediate treatment.
Some people may have to wait months or years to be diagnosed due to the ambiguity of the condition. For this reason, it is always good to visit a doctor after experiencing symptoms concurrently, beginning the process early when symptoms are less severe.
Potential for Treating the Un-Treatable
With all of the above information in mind, many CFS sufferers feel as if there are truly no options for their pain and debilitating symptoms. However, there are treatments available to ease the specific symptoms that manifest in each individual.
Medications are among the most popular of all options available for symptom relief. CFS entails a wide variety of symptoms, therefore medications for pain, sleep, digestion, flu-like symptoms, depression or anxiety may help to ease some of the incapacitating problems associated with this disorder.
In addition to medical treatment, supportive treatments are another effective way to cope with the problems of CFS. Therapy can help individuals relax and improve their ability to come to terms with the implications of the disorder, allowing for the betterment of both mental and emotional health.
Some patients may also seek alternative treatments such as acupuncture and herbal supplements to boost their treatment results even further. Physicians should be consulted when considering this route, however, as herbal remedies can sometimes do more harm than good if a person chooses to take the wrong kinds of supplements.
Lifestyle alterations are among the easiest changes to make, affecting everything from digestion problems to fatigue. Changing one’s diet and exercise for the better and managing sleep through scheduling or medication can greatly increase the quality of life associated with CFS. A patient may choose to pursue this route alone, however guidance from a licensed professional is always a better idea when balancing the complexity of symptoms that are involved with CFS.
It can be frustrating for people to seek help with their CFS symptoms. Because there is no general cure, many individuals may become discouraged quickly. However, there are minor cures used to address specific problems that can be quite successful, granting relief to those who desperately need it.
The Chronic Pain of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
The name of the disorder itself implies long-term, and potentially permanent, suffering as a result of CFS may be chronic. Alternative therapies are the key to lessening the fatigue and pain, and remain to be a highly regarded and primary treatment for the chronic pain of the disorder. Chronic pain poses the threat of being a persistent interference with daily life. By taking the proper steps, however, an individual can learn to cope with their chronic pain in healthy ways, possibly reducing it altogether.
Biofeedback is one of the common alternative therapies to consider, involving the heightening of awareness of many physiological functions meant to provide information on the activity of the body’s numerous systems. Processes that can be controlled involve brainwaves, heart rate and, most importantly, pain perception.
Psychologists use this treatment to help their patients to learn to relax and to cope with pain. Because stress and anxiety often worsens the chronic pain of CFS, biofeedback is one of the most widely used therapeutic options.
Deep breathing exercises and hypnosis are two additional alternative therapies to consider. The way that a person breathes affects their entire body. Therefore, by learning to breathe, a person can learn to manage their tension and relieve stress. Breathing exercises are an easy solution to look up oneself, making it an inexpensive and accessible way in which to manage the pain of CFS.
Massage therapy and muscle relaxation are two physical solutions to the problems of CFS. A gentle massage is known to lower anxiety and help facilitate sleep for people with this disorder. It is important to communicate how much pain is tolerable in this instance, as a massage needs to be effective, yet not too rough. Therapists often use a technique called rolfing, a form of deep-tissue work, to bring different segments of the body into alignment.
Yoga and meditation are two other options for those with CFS. Because CFS is exacerbated by stress, these options allow individuals to ease their pain while improving sleep patterns and enhancing energy. Physically, meditation also helps lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate and can help to balance the immune system, all of which correlate with symptoms of CFS.
Positive Prognosis: Is There Hope?
There is certainly hope for anyone suffering from CFS. Although the symptoms and effects of the disorder can be both intense and life altering, individuals that seek treatment and remain positive are much more likely to lead a healthy, productive lifestyle. The most important thing to keep in mind is that there are solutions for the many symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Although there is no one general approach, individuals are offered the ability to combine their options and create an approach all their own. Not only does this significantly increase one’s chance for success, but it also allows an individual to experiment with different methods and determine what truly works and what simply does not.
A positive attitude is key for those suffering from CFS, as many people may feel helpless under the weight of their symptoms. For those willing to dedicate serious energy and effort towards treatment, however, the prognosis is positive in terms of living a peaceful, fulfilling life free from the burden of CFS.