Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: An Overview
One beautiful June morning, Rhonda was trying to work up the energy to get out of bed. It was, in fact, her daughter Chloe's wedding day, and she was so happy for her. If only she could summon the energy to move. It had been like this for about six months now, and she had an appointment to see her doctor on Monday. It was not just the lack of energy-it was the sore throat, the forgetting, the inability to sleep well at night, the horrible headaches, and the swollen lymph nodes in her neck. That combined to make Rhonda very nervous about Monday's appointment.
What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Rhonda had reason to be concerned. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or CFS, causes people to function at a much lower level than before the onset of CFS. It is characterized by extreme chronic fatigue that does not improve with rest and can worsen with physical or mental exertion. It is a complicated disorder. No one has identified a cause for CFS, and there is no cure for it. Treatment mainly focuses on improving the symptoms. Sometimes Chronic Fatigue comes on after great stress, sometimes after a viral illness, and sometimes it has no clear starting point.
How is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Diagnosed?
Because many illness cause fatigue, Rhonda's doctor would have to exercise care in eliminating other treatable conditions before diagnosing her with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. To make things more difficult, there are no specific diagnostic or laboratory tests for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Doctors have to exclude medical conditions such as a low-functioning thyroid and sleep apnea, a relapse of a previously treated disease, depressive disorders, substance abuse, and obesity for root causes of the fatigue.
How Prevalent is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Rhonda would find that many people could empathize with her condition. Chronic Fatigue affects more than one million people in the U.S. Even more interesting is the estimate that only about twenty percent of those with Chronic Fatigue are actually diagnosed.
Is Complete Recovery Possible with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
It is unclear what the recovery rates are. In a 2005 review of published studies on Chronic Fatigue, improvement percentages were anywhere between eight and sixty-three percent, with the average being about forty percent improvement with follow-up. Full recovery seems to be unusual with less than ten percent going into total remission. Some people never recover enough to be anything but homebound, but many can carry on with their normal activities even while they may be experiencing symptoms. Chances are that Rhonda would be in this last group.
How Can the Patient With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Best Help Herself?
Rhonda would need to be very detailed with her doctor about the symptoms she is experiencing. Her doctor could work with her to manage her symptom relief. It would also be very important for Rhonda to manage the stress she experiences, to get the sleep she needs, to exercise regularly, to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and to learn her limitations for her to get the most out of life.
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