Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Affecting Your Life?

December 23, 2010

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), sometimes known as chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS), affects an estimated million plus Americans.

Recent Controversy

Recently, a lot has been made of a possible connection to the prostate cancer virus (XMRV). Because of this connection, those diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome are being asked not to give blood.

However, there are two reasons not to worry about this. The first is that it is only theoretically possible the virus can be spread by transfusions, and so this is only a precautionary measure (don’t worry about contaminated blood from undiagnosed persons with chronic fatigue syndrome–if you worry about anything, worry about hospitals and out-patient centers not following proper hygiene protocols).

Second, there are studies that not only contradict the idea that CFS is tied to prostate cancer, but suggest the studies who proclaim the connection with chronic fatigue syndrome may have false results due to lab equipment being contaminated with mouse blood cells which carried the virus.
What Is CFS?

Most of the people who report the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome are women aged 30-60, although others may be affected. The exact cause of CFS is unknown, although there are many possibilities, including age and genetics (more below in “How Is CFS Treated?”).

People with chronic fatigue syndrome are half as able to do their normal activities as before the  sudden onset of CFS, and take longer to recover from that exhaustion. Sleep is no help, and exercise is particularly tiring. Fatigue, exhaustion and weariness are a generally ongoing state of being for over six months.

The sudden onset may be accompanied by what appears to be a viral infection, but in any case, chronic fatigue symptoms resemble an ongoing mild viral infection:

  • Enlarged lymph notes (may be tender or painful, too-you can check them on your neck under your chin or on your armpits).
  • Wandering joint pain without signs of inflammation.
  • Muscle pain and/or weakness
  • Mild fever
  • Sore throat (may come and go)

You may also experience more mental symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, remembering, and irritability, as well as a change in headaches (frequency, severity, etc.).

There are many more symptoms that have been reported, but it’s hard to distinguish which are related to chronic fatigue syndrome, and which from the medications prescribed for it.

Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome can easily be confused with that of more serious illnesses. Make sure to talk to your doctor about all symptoms and risk factors you have, as well as what tests can rule out other illnesses or point to CFS.

Depression and chronic fatigue syndrome are easily confused and may be related, with one causing the other. Talk to your doctor extensively about your symptoms, mental and physical, for a clear diagnoses.

How Is CFS Treated?

There is no official or approved treatment or cure for chronic fatigue syndrome. Many people find that the side-effects of the prescribed medications (which target specific symptoms) make things worse, but you should still talk to your doctor if you have any severe symptoms, and to rule out other illnesses.

There are two ways to tackle CFS, the first is to prevent more severe symptoms such as depression, a reduction in quality of life–social isolation, difficulty at work/school, lack of physical activity, and other related situations. To do this, make an effort to have an active social life and to include mild exercise in your daily routine (these two things alone go a long way for many people).  Reach out to friends and family for support by talking to them about your condition-an upbeat attitude will help ease some of the symptoms (like depression and irritability).

Second, look at the possible causes for chronic fatigue syndrome, and take steps at home to attack them:

A Mild Viral or Fungal Infection: This is perhaps the most likely cause, and so CFS is sometimes treated with antivirals and/or antifungals. These can have a negative effect on your GI Tract and immune system, especially when taken over a long period of time. Instead, try natural antivirals and natural antifungals, whether supplements, spice, or oil. These generally have no side-effects or very mild ones.

Prior Illness/Immune System Dysfunction: Sometimes a viral infection can cause mild diseases to crop up after you get better. As above, you can try natural antivirals to rule out a lingering viral presence. If you think your immune system is malfunctioning, try acupuncture or see a naturopath.

Inflammation in the Nervous System: Inflammation is behind several illnesses. The best way to treat it is by loading up on antioxidants, either by increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, or by adding a supplement to your diet.

Environment: Can affect our health in major ways without us realizing it. Check your environment (home, work, etc.) for toxins that may be making you ill. Some examples include paint (some paints will give off odorless fumes for up to two years after application) and ingredients in soaps and beauty products.

Nutrition & Weight: Make sure you are eating a healthy diet to rule out anemia (low iron levels) and hypoglycemia (low blood-sugar levels) which are both tied to chronic fatigue syndrome. Being overweight may also be a cause, so try and reach a healthy weight if you aren’t there already.

Stress: Stress may cause chronic fatigue syndrome, so try these stress management tips (Click Here) as well as meditation, group therapy, and perhaps making life changes that will lower your stress level.

Talk to Your Doctor About hormone changes, hypotension (low blood pressure) and allergies. Your doctor can help you with hypotension, and identify if you are suffering from hormone changes and allergies. (Click here for tips on dealing with allergies). If hormone changes are causing chronic fatigue syndrome, then try dealing with it be being social and mildly exercising regularly (as above).

It may not be clear what caused your CFS, so try different methods until something works for you.

Have you or a loved one ever had chronic fatigue syndrome? What methods worked for you to relieve symptoms? Share your advice below!

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