Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), which is also sometimes called Myalgic Encephalitis (ME), is a complex condition which can cause extreme fatigue, issues with sleep, pain, and other symptoms. Patients who have CFS will typically feel extremely tired and overexerted most of the time. This fatigue is something which will not wear off after an adequate amount of rest, and patients often feel much worse after carrying out even a small amount of mental or physical activity.
This disorder is known to affect the nervous system. However, doctors still do not understand the cause of CFS – there is no simple cause. The term ‘myalgic encephalomyelitis’ actually translates to “pain in the muscles”. Patients also present with inflammation in their brains and spinal cord. CFS can develop at any age and is known to affect both children and adults, but it is more commonly seen in individuals between the ages of forty to sixty years old. Although it is thought that CFS does have a significant impact amongst Australians, there are not many recent figures available on the number of people of people affected.
It has been noted that there are numerous subtypes of CFS, so management plans tend to be individually developed for each patient. Usually, around one-quarter of CFS patients suffer from a mild form of the condition and can carry on with their regular daily without much interruption. Half of CFS patients suffer from a moderate to severe form of CFS and may experience a disruption in their day to day routines. The final quarter of CFS patients experience a severe form of CFS and typically need to stay at home.
Research has shown that CFS patients respond with different physiological reactions to activities and exercises than those without CFS. These abnormal physiological responses include abnormal exhaustion and worsening of other CFS symptoms. Dependent on the amount and extent of exercise, post-exertional malaise can last for a few days. More severe relapses can last weeks or months.
Symptoms of CFS
As CFS is a complex syndrome which affects multiple systems and can lead to chronic illness, the following symptoms will usually manifest, and should be present for a medical diagnosis of CFS;
- Neurocognitive problems such as problems with concentration, memory loss, disturbance in vision, clumsiness, and muscle twitching
- Sleep disruptions
- Muscle and joint pains, and headaches
- Lowered blood pressure and feelings of dizziness and paleness
- Palpitations with an increased heart rate and shortness of breath
- Gastrointestinal changes, such as nausea, constipation, and diarrhoea
- Flu-like symptoms such as a sore throat and tender lymph nodes
- An inability to cope with change in temperature
Patients will often find that their symptoms appear to fluctuate over a short period – even hourly.
Causes of CFS
While scientists are still learning about the biological causes of CFS, genetics seem to play a role in many cases. More than 4,000 research articles and studies have found that CFS is associated with problems and symptoms including (1);
- The ability to produce and transport energy around the body
- Immune, neurological, and hormonal systems
- Circulatory and cardiac systems
- Biochemical abnormalities
- Viral, bacterial, and other infections
For more information on CFS/ME, speak with your doctor or healthcare provider.