Maybe you are experiencing symptoms, or have already been diagnosed, but haven’t figured out what exactly chronic fatigue syndrome is. 

In this article we’ll go over the definition of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), symptoms, the process of diagnosis, as well as treatment options for CFS. Including our treatment options at Integrated Wellness in Bountiful, Utah. Let’s get to the bottom of your chronic fatigue syndrome together!

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Defined

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, or in simpler terms, chronic fatigue syndrome. A complex illness diagnosed with a history of at least 6 months or more of extreme fatigue, one that is not relieved by rest. Along with a list of additional symptoms that are also present for the same period of at least 6 months.

A lot of those suffering with CFS, the symptoms can arrive suddenly. Often it’s after: you’ve had a flu like infection, an episode of psychological, or physical trauma (such as surgery, traumatic accident, or a death of someone close to you.)

Other times, it can develop over time. This illness is known to last from months, to years. Only a small percentage of those with CFS recover fully.

While feeling tired a lot, many will seek their doctors help. A lot of those who are experiencing chronic fatigue are probably not suffering from the actual syndrome. Things like overworking yourself and depression are a lot more common causes of experiencing chronic fatigue.

What Causes it?

The causes of chronic fatigue syndrome are still not fully understood. Having the illness can be triggered by a number of common illnesses. Such as Lyme disease, or mono. That being said, not all of those cases are tied to patients getting CFS after.

When testing, they have discovered that patients with CFS show abnormalities in their brain. Particularly the part that regulates hormones and vital functions (hypothalamus), as well as the pituitary gland.

These tests have also found abnormalities in the autonomic nervous system. That controls things like the body’s blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and more vital functions. 

As an example of this, patients with CFS commonly have an unusually high heart rate and experience low blood pressure after standing for extended periods of time.

What is it like living with it?

Those who have chronic fatigue syndrome experience defects in their body taking place where cells make energy. Some studies even show that certain genes being built differently, leads to the activity of genes in white blood cells to be different too.

When patients with CFS receive tests on the brain and the autonomic nervous system, abnormalities are commonly revealed. Ones that are not normal in healthy people of their same age, or in people who suffer from similar conditions that cause fatigue and depression.

When looking at symptoms such as abnormalities in the immune system, energy metabolism, and the nervous system; they all seem to come and go. Therefore, not every abnormality affects each patient who has chronic fatigue syndrome.

In the United States, federal health authorities estimate that chronic fatigue syndrome affects 1 to 8 of every 1,000 Americans older than age 18. 

On top of that statistic, women are twice more likely than men to be affected. Although it is most common in people between the ages of 25-45, it can be present in all age groups, even children.

Though the majority of cases don’t occur during an epidemic like COVID-19, there have been at least 30 reported outbreaks. During these outbreaks, several people in one area will suddenly develop CFS at the same time.

However, there has been a failed attempt by health experts to get to the bottom of the chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms they’re experiencing.

Common Symptoms

When it comes to the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, the ones that are most common include the unexplained feeling of constant fatigue. Of which is so severe that it affects the person’s activity level at home, work and school by at least half, or more.

Additionally, the CFS diagnosis does require that patients are experiencing at least four of the following symptoms. All present for at least 6 months or more:

  • Impaired concentration or short-term memory, severe enough to affect routine activities at home, work, school or social functions
  • Sore throat
  • Enlarged lymph nodes (swollen glands) in the neck or underarm area
  • Muscle pain
  • Pain in several joints, with no redness or swelling
  • Headaches that are different in some way: a new type of headache pain, a new pattern of headaches or headaches that are more severe than before
  • Sleep that doesn’t refresh, or not feeling rested on waking
  • An extreme reaction to exertion: feeling sick after exercise or strenuous activity, often not starting until the next day

Patients will more often than not experience symptoms that don’t fit under the official definition. This could include nausea, difficulty tolerating alcohol, or any medicine that reacts with the brain.

A lot of them also experience allergies. Such as hay fever, or often recurring sinus problems.

If you want to hear a scary statistic, almost half of those suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome will develop depression during the months, or years after their CFS starts.

However, it’s important to note that chronic fatigue syndrome is a physical illness, not a psychiatric one. The symptoms are what may lead to depression in some patients.

How to Properly Diagnose

So, diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome. Let’s talk about it! There is quite a bit of evidence that the syndrome is brought on by a physical problem concerning the immune system, energy metabolism and the nervous system.

In the same vein, there are currently no laboratory tests, or procedures available to properly confirm the diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Until a more proven way is found to reach diagnosis, doctors are left to diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome based on the known symptoms of the illness. Cross examining them with symptoms the patient is experiencing and eliminating any other possible illness they could be experiencing that might cause extreme, prolonged fatigue.

Because of this, your doctor might ask about symptoms of other fatigue-causing illnesses including:

  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland)
  • Adrenal insufficiency (underactive adrenal gland)
  • Heart disorders
  • Sleep apnea or narcolepsy
  • Side effects of medications
  • Cancer
  • Hepatitis B or hepatitis C
  • Certain psychiatric illnesses, especially major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and delusional disorders and dementia
  • The eating disorders anorexia nervosa and bulimia
  • Drug abuse, including alcohol abuse
  • Severe obesity

Another thing that might be done by a doctor, is assessment of your mental status. A basic blood test is ordered if available. Such as red blood cell count, white blood cell count (including differential), thyroid, kidney and also liver tests.

Additionally, other specialized tests might be recommended. This could include testing your autonomic nervous system. 

Duration of Symptoms

When attempting to be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, your symptoms must have extended for a duration of at least 6 months.

Unfortunately, a lot of patients will have symptoms that go on for years. Where symptoms tend to appear worse in the first 1-2 years, most patients functioning levels will gradually improve over time.

Can You Prevent it?

Because the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome remains unknown, there is no way to prevent it. The best option is to seek out the best treatment option for chronic fatigue syndrome. Every patient might require a different approach.

Treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

There is no proven treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome. Things like minimal aerobic exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy may help improve the level of function. Neither will cure it.

No one approach is best for everyone with CFS, and the condition rarely is cured. The best options for treatment involve lifestyle and health changes.

In general, doctors use a combination of the following:

  • Lifestyle changes. Patients are often encouraged to slow down, minimize over exertion and try to avoid any type of psychological stress. Learning to save their energy for essential activities at home, or work and to cut back on less-important activities.
  • Resume exercise gradually. With the help of a physical therapist, patients begin an exercise program where aerobic physical activity begins very slowly, and is increased very gradually. 
  • Treat existing psychiatric problems. Around 50% to 60% of people with chronic fatigue syndrome who develop depression, treatment with medication and therapy can be valuable in treating the depression; however, the chronic fatigue is rarely if ever cured by antidepressant therapy.
  • Treating any allergy symptoms. Antihistamines and decongestants are used to treat allergy symptoms.

Treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at Integrated Wellness

Now that you know the in’s and outs, we hope we answered all of your questions about what chronic fatigue syndrome is. 

Contact us at Integrated Wellness if you’re experiencing symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, especially if the extreme fatigue is preventing you from fully participating in activities at home, work or school.

At Integrated Wellness we’ll help you discover the path back to a happy, healthy, successful life of energy and vitality, the natural way!