Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Defined
Named in the 1980s, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) currently affects over 1 million Americans and probably many more that remain undiagnosed. It is perhaps the most mysterious illness, being incredibly difficult to diagnose and having no known cause.
Because chronic fatigue syndrome shares so many of its symptoms with a sleuth of other diseases, an international panel of CFS experts created a definition in 1994 to aid in its diagnosis. Two criteria must be met to be considered a CFS patient.
- Experience chronic fatigue for six months or longer with no connection to any other condition
- Experience at least four of the following symptoms simultaneously over the course of six months or more: pain in multiple joints without swelling or redness, markedly impaired short-term memory or concentration, tender lymph nodes, sore throat, muscle pain, headaches, unrefreshing sleep, or post-exertional fatigue lasting longer than 24 hours.
Many other symptoms have been reported by approximately 20-50% of CFS patients, including:
- Abdominal pain
- Allergies or sensitivities to foods, alcohol, odors, chemicals, medications or noise
- Chest pain
- Chronic cough
- Dizziness, balance problems or fainting
- Dry mouth
- Irregular heartbeat
- Jaw pain
- Morning stiffness
- Chills and night sweats
- Psychological problems, such as depression, irritability, and anxiety disorders
- Shortness of breath
- Tingling sensations
- Visual disturbances, such as blurring, sensitivity to light, eye pain and dry eyes
- Weight loss or gain
Other Conditions with Similar Symptoms
CFS is so rarely diagnosed due to the number of symptoms it shares with other illnesses. Fatigue, in particular, is a major symptom in the following diseases and can often be confused with CFS:
- sleep apnea and narcolepsy
- major depressive disorders
- chronic mononucleosis
- eating disorders
- autoimmune disease
- hormonal disorders
- subacute infections
- alcohol or substance abuse
- reactions to prescribed medications
- fibromyalgia syndrome
- myalgic encephalomyelitis
- multiple chemical sensitivities
- chronic mononucleosis
While there may be risk factors for fatigue, there are no solid risk factors for developing chronic fatigue syndrome. Women are diagnosed with the condition up to 4 times more than men; however, that may simply be due to women being more likely to report symptoms. The condition is also most common in those 40-50 years of age. But it has been reported in people of all ages.
To reduce fatigue from outside sources, CFS sufferers should practice the following things:
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle through balanced diet, limited caffeine intake; drink plenty of water, and no smoking.
- Exercise regularly to improve the quality of sleep. While overdoing it can often exacerbate CFS symptoms, moderate exercise once a day is important to stay healthy.
- Reduce stress by avoiding those things which upset you. Although work can often be stressful, the routine it provides sometimes outweighs the cons of a little stress.
Living with CFS can be frustrating as most people don't believe it's a real disease. Try to keep things in perspective and listen to your body to maintain the physical and mental health you need.
Photo Credit: "MINTHEART"