Do You Have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disorder affecting roughly one million Americans. Women get it more often than men in a four to one ration, and the age of onset is usually the forties or fifties. The onset is usually sudden. Many times, it follows on the heels of a viral infection. In other cases, periods of extreme stress can trigger the syndrome. There appears to be a genetic component to the disorder that may predispose individuals to develop the syndrome and suffer more severe symptoms if they do, but thus far, this link is poorly understood. The symptoms are similar to those of many viral diseases, except that they do not subside. The defining characteristic of CFS is, of course, fatigue. A small portion of patients, about ten percent, go into complete remission and live out the rest of their lives symptom free. For the rest, CFS is usually a life-long condition. Unlike most chronic conditions, however, the symptoms improve over time, and many people with CFS are able to resume some or all of their previous activities during the later stages of the condition.
Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
The most severe symptom of CFS is an overwhelming fatigue that does not get better through resting and that can be aggravated by physical or mental exertion. In addition to this main complaint, most patients also report additional symptoms:
- troubled and unsatisfying sleep with frequent and vivid nightmares
- joint and muscle pain
- sore throat
- swollen lymph nodes
- cognitive troubles such as poor concentration and short-term memory impairments
Other symptoms are rare but can include:
- abdominal pain
- weight loss
- night sweats
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
What Other Diseases is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Commonly Confused With?
Since the defining symptom of CFS is fatigue, it is often confused with other diseases that also have this as a symptom. The diseases and disorders that CFS is most commonly confused with include fibromyalgia, chronic mononucleosis, hypothyroidism, encephalomyelitis, sleep apnea, lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, depression, and some kinds of cancers. All of these conditions can lead to fatigue. Therefore, it can be difficult to distinguish a case of CFS from one of these disorders.
How to Find Out if You Have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that only about twenty percent of people with CFS have been diagnosed. The diagnosis is tricky. There are no diagnostic tests capable of detecting CFS. Therefore, CFS is usually a diagnosis of elimination. Doctors usually run labs to test for other explanations before giving a diagnosis of CFS. In addition, certain symptoms have to be present for at least six months before a patient can be formally diagnosed with CFS. First, the patient must suffer from severe and inexplicable fatigue that does not improve with rest. Second, the patient must have at least four of the following symptoms to qualify for the diagnosis:
- an inability to recover after exertion
- sleep trouble
- joint pain without accompanying swelling
- sore throat
- tender lymph nodes
- serious lapses in concentration and memory
If you believe you may have CFS, or if you suffer from any of the above symptoms, you should see your physician. It is important to eliminate other possibilities, and while there is no cure for CFS, there are treatments available that can help you deal with your condition.
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