The symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome are marked by excessive, ongoing cognitive and physical fatigue that can’t be relieved by any amount of sleep or rest, as well as a variety of other symptoms such as sore throat, flu-like symptoms, muscle pain, digestive problems, insomnia, headaches, fever, and swollen glands. It is a complex and often incapacitating condition that is misunderstood by physicians, society, and even those inflicted.
The relentless fatigue is the primary characteristic and is often described as feeling as if there are weights attached to the arms and legs dragging the individual down and making almost any activity feel like a monumental task. There is complete and total exhaustion.
The symptoms of chronic fatigue are usually exacerbated with exertion, which is called post-exertional malaise or (PEM). However, the amount of exertion that is problematic can vary from one person to another. One person may have a higher tolerance for exertion than another. For some, even the most trivial activities can be trigger PEM. The more intense and extended the exertion is the more symptoms that are incited and the longer the recovery time.
The degree of severity in fatigue and accompanying symptoms can vary greatly from one individual to another. It can range anywhere from a minor annoyance to completely disabling and everything in between. Severity can also wax and wane from day to day within the same individual. Some days they can be more functional while other days they are flat on their back.
However, most of those inflicted report a drastic reduction in their ability to engage in physical activity with the severity of symptoms being as serious and disabling as Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, or other similar conditions.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is sometimes referred to as CFS, CFIDS, Epstein Barr, myalgic encephalomyelitis, or even Yuppie Flu which is considered offensive. It’s estimated that more than2.5 million Americans live with this condition, but that is a modest estimate, as this number doesn’t include those individuals who don’t seek treatment and those who are misdiagnosed. The CDC reports that less than 20% of CFS patients in the U.S. have been diagnosed.
Misdiagnosis is very common, largely because symptoms overlap with many other chronic health conditions and because a larger part of the medical community still doesn’t embrace this disorder. Even among those who do accept it, there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the nature of the beast and they are not in agreement about many aspects such as causes and the best treatment method.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is often accompanied by Fibromyalgia and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, but not always. Some people present with FMS or MCS as the primary symptom and chronic fatigue as a secondary symptom.
Many people refer to CFS as chronic fatigue, but they are not actually one and the same, some people have chronic fatigue without all the other symptoms that are part of the syndrome. However, it is often used as a slang term among those inflicted.
For a long time, CFS was a controversial diagnosis because it wasn’t considered an actual “illness.” Health care providers thought individuals inflicted were just being lazy, looking for attention, or experiencing Depression or some other mental health condition.
Like many illnesses that defy science and don’t respond to traditional medical treatment, the mainstream medical professionals tend to dismiss it and label it as psychosomatic. When physicians don’t understand something or it can’t fit into their rigid, narrow medical view they often become defensive and blame it on the psychological rather than admit they just don’t have the answers. This attitude is appalling and insulting. As anyone living with the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome knows, they would give about anything to have their energy return and live the life they once knew.
This negative view still exists to some degree in both the medical community and society in spite of the fact that there is growing acceptance. Many health care professionals still “secretly” believe it’s not real and there is a negative stigma attached by society. Many people, both medical professionals and the general population, tend to look at those inflicted with a bit of skepticism.
If your doctor tells you it’s all in your head, then you should run as fast as you can to someone who is more enlightened and competent. Don’t allow yourself to be subjected to such ignorance and abuse.
To receive adequate, competent, and respectful treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome, usually requires finding an alternative health doctor such as a holistic medical doctor, an integrative medicine doctor, a functional medicine doctor, a doctor of environmental medicine, or a naturopath. Many chiropractors are knowledgeable on this topic as well.
Like all chronic health disorders, with chronic fatigue syndrome, there is no aspect of life that goes untouched by the impact. Not only is their energy zapped, but so is their self-esteem and self-image as they lose their ability to engage in the world as they desire and feel productive.
They are often faced with deep grief and loss issues as they are forced into a new lifestyle and new identity. There is often conflict and burden on relationships with friends and family and financial worries as their ability to work may be impaired.
However, when one is dealing with a condition that doesn’t receive wide support, acceptance, and validation from the medical community or society, such as CFS, FMS, or MCS they may also face profound isolation, self-doubt, and uncertainty. We are making some progress though and it is encouraging to see this statement on the CDC web site, “CFS is not caused by depression, although the two illnesses often coexist, many patients with CFS have no psychiatric disorder.”
I would like to add this explanation – Depression coexists with chronic fatigue syndrome for two primary reasons:
- The same factors such as diet, nutritional deficiencies and environmental toxins that cause the fatigue also impact the brain and create the depression and any other so called “psychiatric symptom” that may display. Neurotransmitters in the brain which regulate mood are often depleted or disrupted.
- When your life is altered severely by a chronic health condition and your life is turned upside down, depression tends to occur naturally in response to the grief and loss that must be endured. Depression is not a cause of CFS, it is a result.
Although anyone living with chronic fatigue syndrome doesn’t need any scientific evidence to acknowledge what they already know, there is evidence of neurological, immune, and endocrine dysfunction in those with CFS.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Causes
As someone who has dealt with the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome first hand, I have found that the causes are not really the big mystery we think they are. Like all chronic health conditions, in the end, it all boils down to diet, nutrition, environmental toxins, microbial overgrowth, and stress. Here are the factors I’ve found to contribute the most to the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome:
- Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue is the primary underlying cause of chronic fatigue syndrome. The more severe your fatigue, then the more severe your adrenal dysfunction. You must put a large part of your focus in this area.
- Unidentified Food Sensitivities or Allergies
- Candida Overgrowth
- Chemical Sensitivities
- Nutritional Deficiencies
- Pesticide/Herbicide Exposure
- Heavy Metal Poisoning
- Hormonal Imbalances
- Neurotransmitter Deficiencies or Imbalances
- Parasites or Bacterial overgrowth
- Chronic Stress
- Poor diet. A diet that is high in sugar, caffeine, refined foods and even complex carbohydrates like whole grains and potatoes, contributes greatly to chronic fatigue. I encourge you to follow a low-carb Paleolithic Diet.
Each of the factors above also contribute to adrenal fatigue. A variety of functional medicine tests can be used to help assess which of these factors apply to your situation. Many people are able to make improvements in their health by addressing these issues.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Treatment
There is no known “cure” for CFS, but symptoms can be managed or relieved to some degree with changes in lifestyle, pacing, dietary restrictions, limiting physical activity, stress management, development of coping skills, nutritional supplementation and a variety of other alternative health approaches. Some people can manage to keep working with great difficulty while others find it completely impossible.
Medical tests find that many CFS patients run a fever, have low blood pressure and yeast infections, have deficiencies in B vitamins, zinc and magnesium, and parasites or some other type of unhealthy organism in their stool.
Based on these studies, along with numerous examples of chronic fatigue sufferers who have success treating themselves with dietary changes, nutritional supplements and other integrative medicine methods, there seems to be at least some indication that this syndrome is actually caused by more serious, underlying issues within the body.
A couple new treatment options on the horizon are proving to be effective in improving symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, called Dynamic Neural Retraining and Amygdala Retraining. In a nutshell, both of these approaches use a combination of neurolinguistic programming, visualizations, meditation and more to restore balance to the autonomic nervous system.
Other helpful strategies that can either assist in the coping or healing process include mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, mindfulness-based meditation, keeping a sense of humor and spending time with nature.