Chronic fatigue is not the same as having chronic fatigue syndrome, CFS. Chronic fatigue is a symptom. Whilst chronic fatigue syndrome is well... a syndrome. That means CFS is a collection of symptoms.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). Or, even sometimes systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID). It can start quite suddenly and the causes are unclear and may be complex.
Even though research in this area is increasing rapidly, there is still a lot to learn. Furthermore, scientists admit that as far as CFS is concerned they don't know what they don't know. In fact, some people think that CFS may not be one single disease but perhaps a condition with subtypes.
Because of the lack of knowledge, it is difficult to get a diagnosis. There are no specific tests that diagnose CFS. So, it can be very important to consider each person on a case by case basis. This is especially true in relation to identifying any underlying factors. Most people with chronic fatigue syndrome struggle to get a diagnosis as there are no obvious abnormalities on examination. Which is why some people may describe CFS as a psychosomatic illness.
However, research suggests that far from being all in the mind, CFS may, in fact, be linked to changes in the brain. To be more precise, the problem may be due to impaired connectivity between parts of the brain. Scientists suggest that these findings explain many of the symptoms of CFS. Such as changes in attention, memory and cognitive function. As well as symptoms such as poor sleep quality and lack of muscle tone.
Activity can make symptoms worse
The main symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome is extreme tiredness, both mental and physical. The fatigue can be overwhelming and rest does not relieve it. Both physical and mental activity can cause or make symptoms worse. Not to mention that the onset may occur a few hours after the activity.
Along with extreme fatigue, there are physical symptoms, especially muscle pain. But there can also be lymph node tenderness, sore throat, flu-like symptoms, headaches, sleep problems, difficulty concentrating or thinking, poor memory, low mood and dizziness.
Causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
There are many theories about the possible causes of CFS including viral illness, such as chronic Epstein-Barr virus infection. It seems most likely that the cause is a problem relating to the immune system or inflammation. Other factors that should be considered are genetic susceptibility, immune system problems, poor adrenal function, circadian rhythm problems and deficiency of certain nutrients.
Conventional medicine addresses symptoms of CFS
Currently, conventional medicine has no clear treatment for CFS and therefore only addresses the symptoms. In contrast, traditional medicine such as herbal medicine or acupuncture, which have a personalised holistic approach can be very effective. As this is an individual approach the aims of treatment will vary but might include a combination strategies. Such as boosting immune system function, reducing inflammation, relieving pain and supporting emotional health and restful sleep.
CFS and the gut-brain axis
There is also a lot of interest in the association between the gut and the brain, via the gut-brain axis. So, in people that have digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome alongside CFS, it is also important to address the health of the gut. An elimination diet, for example as part of a 5R approach might form part of such a treatment.
In any case, with complex conditions such as long-standing CFS, it is likely that a combination of therapies may provide a better outcome.
Here are some of my articles on fatigue.
An intro on adaptogens for stress
What is gluten and why do some people avoid eating it?
Do you have a leaky gut?
What is autoimmune disease?
Are detox plans worth doing?
SIBO: It's important to find the possible causes