March is National Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Awareness Month
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) may affect between 1 and 4 million Americans, yet only about half have consulted a physician for their illness, according to the CDC. The earlier a person with CFS receives medical treatment, the greater the likelihood that the illness will resolve. March is designated as National Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Month to raise awareness for this debilitating condition.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a condition of prolonged and severe tiredness that is not relieved by rest and is not directly caused by another condition. The symptoms appear suddenly, last six months or more and they decrease the ability to participate in ordinary activities by 50%. Women are diagnosed with CFS four times as often as men, most often in their 40s and 50s.
Symptoms of CFS are similar to that of viral infections, however no specific research has identified a virus as the cause. Muscle aches, headache, and fatigue are most common. Some patients also suffer forgetfulness, confusion, irritability, joint pain, lymph node tenderness, mild fever, or sore throat.
There are not any specific tests or biomarkers to confirm a diagnosis of CFS, however some test results are more common in patients. A brain MRI may reveal a swelling in the brain or a destruction of part of the nerve cells (demyelination). Some patients have higher levels of specific white blood cells such as CD4 T Cells and lymphocytes containing active forms of EBV or HHV-6.
There is no cure for the syndrome itself, but symptoms can be treated with antiviral drugs such as acyclovir, drugs to fight yeast infections (nystatin), medications to reduce pain and discomfort, and anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications.
In addition to medications, mild physical exercise may also be helpful, but take caution not to over-exert. Start off slowly and increase activity gradually, which has been shown to improve the symptoms of CFS. Other adjustments that can help improve rest include setting and keeping a regular bed time and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Behavior therapy and stress management may also help.
If you think you may have CFS, The Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS) Association of America offers the "Do I Have CFS" questionnaire for an assessment that will familiarize you with the symptom patterns and exclusionary conditions that lead a health care provider to make a CFS diagnosis.