Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complex condition that goes by many names, such as chronic fatigue immune dysfunction and myalgic encephalomyelitis. It is characterized by extreme fatigue or tiredness that does not go away with bed rest. Chronic fatigue syndrome also has no discernible medical cause and can worsen when a person undergoes physical or mental activity. Symptoms can limit the everyday activities someone can enjoy as well as affect other parts of their life including work, family, and friends. In this post, we talk about some chronic fatigue treatments you can try to resolve symptoms and get back to your life.
Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a disorder that is often misdiagnosed because its symptoms are common in other illnesses. The central symptom that defines CFS is extreme fatigue that lasts for more than six months, but there are many others that come along with this condition as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the following are symptoms that are used to diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome. A person must suffer from at least four of these to be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome:
- Malaise: The onset of extreme exhaustion and sickness following physical or mental exertion that lasts more than 24 hours
- Cognitive issues: Lapse in memory, concentration, or complex information processing
- Sore throat
- Persistent muscle pain
- Joint pain that migrates without swelling
- Tender lymph nodes
- Unrefreshing sleep
These are not the only things you have to worry about, though. On top of those symptoms, the following have also been commonly reported:
- Brain fog, such as feeling hazy and disoriented
- Difficulty with balance
- Sensitivity to foods, odors, chemicals, medications, light, or noise
- Irritable bowel
- Depression, anxiety, or panic attacks
Those who have chronic fatigue syndrome will notice a drastically lower level of energy than before they had this condition. This disorder also tends to occur alongside other illnesses such as fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivity, and orthostatic intolerance. If you believe you have chronic fatigue syndrome or any other illness, make sure to tell your healthcare professional.
Common causes and risk factors
Even with the current wave of research, it is still not known what exactly causes chronic fatigue syndrome. It is possible that it is caused by multiple factors at once. Many different factors have been studied in an attempt to find the cause. The following may be linked with a patient developing chronic fatigue syndrome:
Many different viruses have been researched, but none of them have been exclusively linked to the disorder. Some research has shown that the Epstein-Barr, Ross River, Human Herpesvirus 6, and Coxiella burnetti virus may create conditions that meet the criteria for CFS.
Many patients with chronic fatigue syndrome produce lower levels of cortisol and other hormones, which can greatly affect many other parts of the body. This underproduction is usually prompted by an emotional or physical stress event and is known to be a common pre-onset trigger. However, these production levels are still within a normal acceptable range and seem to happen in other illnesses.
Immune system problems
People who develop chronic fatigue syndrome often have abnormal immune responses, such as particular T-cell activation markers and intolerance to some foods or medications.
Causes are still being explored, but scientists have discovered various risk factors that can increase your chance of developing chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Sex: Women tend to be two to four times more likely to develop this condition versus men.
- Age: It most commonly affects people in their 40s and 50s.
- Family history: Sometimes, chronic fatigue syndrome is developed by members within the same family. This indicates a possible genetic link, although one has yet to be discovered.
Overall, adults are more likely to develop this condition than children and its incidence seems to be found in all races equally.
Diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome
Of the up to the four million people in the U.S. who have chronic fatigue syndrome, only about 20% have actually received a proper diagnosis. This is because diagnosing this condition is a difficult process. Currently no one diagnostic test or sign can conclusively point to this disorder.
The process to be diagnosed is complicated further as it requires a variety of tests to rule out other similar conditions that may cause the same symptoms. This can be a problem as chronic fatigue syndrome can vary in severity and the symptoms can wax and wane, so a discernable pattern is not always easy to pin down.
Three critera have to be met if a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome is to be determined:
- Unexplained and persistent fatigue for six months that cannot be relieved by rest
- This fatigue must greatly interfere with everyday activities
- Four of the eight symptoms listed above must be present
The basic process that is used in the diagnosis process is laid out as follows:
- A doctor will take a detailed medical history of the patient
- The patient will undergo a thorough physical and metal examination
- A multitude of tests will be required while trying to rule out other conditions
Chronic fatigue treatments and complementary approaches
This syndrome can be debilitating to the person suffering but also devastating to loved ones and caregivers. While researchers continue to study potential treatments, here are some current treatment options for chronic fatigue syndrome. There is no specific process or drug that can treat chronic fatigue syndrome. Managing this condition requires a team of professionals to help develop a personalized treatment plan that is best suited to each individualized patient.
Beyond that, there are a few lifestyle changes that can be made to help relieve and prevent some of the symptoms. These include:
- Develop a sleep routine: Sleep hygiene is key for good health. Set a schedule and keep to it. Make sure to avoid problem products like caffeine and alcohol. Keeping a clean and clutter-free bedside table (and room in general) also helps promote sleep, as does going to bed at the same time and shutting off all screens (TV and computer) at least two hours before bedtime.
- Try to reduce stress: Try meditation or yoga or whatever works for you. The point is to make time every day to relax and burn off some emotional stress.
- Don’t overdo it: Make sure you don’t push yourself too hard even on the best days. A great way to have all of those symptoms come crashing back is to overexert yourself.
Lack of vital nutrients can contribute to fatigue and lack of energy. It is important to eat whole foods that are a vital source of iron and magnesium to keep iron levels in the blood high and increase oxygen levels in the blood and muscles. Many people do not get their recommended daily dose of eight to 18 milligrams of iron and 310 to 420 milligrams of magnesium daily.
Although supplements are an option, reach first for leafy greens, white beans, oatmeal, grass-fed beef, pumpkin seeds, and spinach to concentrate on upping levels of both vital nutrients naturally. Add vitamin C to increase absorption of iron in the blood and help build up your immune system at the same time!
Vitamins and minerals for rest and energy
One of chronic fatigue syndrome’s primary symptoms is the inability to have restful sleep. Although prescription sleeping medication is an option, long-term use can be dangerous and habit forming. Several supplements may help promote quality sleep without a prescription.
- Melatonin: The body produces melatonin on its own to signal the brain that it is time for rest, but sometimes it does not produce enough. You can prompt your brain to begin melatonin production by keeping lights in the bedroom dark when it is time for bed. If this does not help, start with a low dose of a melatonin supplement (500 mg) and see if that helps improve your rest.
- Theanine: Theanine is an amino acid that improves the quality of sleep. The tricky part is that it is found naturally in green and black teas, both of which contain caffeine. You could try decaf versions of those teas, or try a supplement. Take 100-200 milligrams 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime.
Unfortunately, sometimes sleep is elusive, and you may still have things to do the following day. There are natural supplements that can improve energy too:
- L-Ornithine: A body suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome often has too much ammonia in the blood. This ammonia can make the brain foggy and less alert. L-Ornithine can help with that foggy-brain feeling and increased alertness and mental acuity during the day. The dosage is two to six milligrams.
- Glycine: After a poor night’s sleep, glycine is an amino acid that may help improve cognitive performance the next day. Three daily grams can help clear up your thinking and sharpen your mind.
Coping with a chronic condition can be mentally taxing, and many with chronic fatigue syndrome also battle depression and anxiety. Antidepressants can help ameliorate the effects of depression, some of which contribute to even more fatigue and a deeper sense of malaise.
Used carefully and under a doctor’s supervision, prescription sleeping medication can also help provide a full, restful night of sleep when it is desperately needed. A person’s outlook can change drastically with a good night’s rest, and this may enable them to work with other treatments during the day.
Exercise can improve mood and quality of life, but chronic fatigue patients often feel as if they can’t muster the energy to do anything. This type of program takes that into account. As the CDC explains:
“[Post-exertional malaise] (PEM) can be addressed by activity management, also called pacing. The goal of pacing is to learn to balance rest and activity to avoid PEM flare-ups, which can be caused by exertion that patients with ME/CFS cannot tolerate. To do this, patients need to find their individual limits for mental and physical activity. Then they need to plan activity and rest to stay within these limits. Some patients and doctors refer to staying within these limits as staying within the ‘energy envelope.’ The limits may be different for each patient. Keeping activity and symptom diaries may help patients find their personal limits, especially early on in the illness.”
Professional counseling helps patients change their mindset surrounding their chronic fatigue. This does not tell them that it’s all in their head. Instead, it helps them to reframe their challenges and focus more on improvements and steps forward.
Complementary and alternative chronic fatigue treatments
Many chronic fatigue syndrome patients report success with alternative treatments such as acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and t’ai chi. Using these treatments can be helpful when a patient does not want to add prescription medications, or they feel as if they need to incorporate more holistic approaches to their treatment plan.
Chronic fatigue syndrome can be debilitating, but there are ways to approach treatment that can be helpful. If you or someone you love is suffering from chronic fatigue, which treatments have you found to be the most effective?