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Does chronic fatigue syndrome cause persistent tiredness?

By Apollo 24/7, Published on- 06 September 2021

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We all feel tired after a long day at work or a vigorous exercise session, and a good nap usually helps in restoring our energy levels. However, if the tiredness gets overwhelming and does not go away even after a proper rest, it may indicate an underlying health condition. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is a long-term illness characterized by extreme tiredness that is more prevalent in middle-aged women. People with undiagnosed CFS can find it difficult to perform daily tasks such as bathing, brushing their teeth, or preparing meals.

What are the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome?

A person suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome experiences excessive physical and mental tiredness that does not go away with rest or sleep and interferes with everyday activities. Other symptoms of CFS include:

  • Headache
  • Pain in the muscles or joints
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck and armpits
  • Unable to sleep (insomnia)
  • Cold and cough
  • Dizziness, especially on changing postures
  • Digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome
  • Difficulty in thinking, remembering, or concentrating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fluttering or racing of heart (heart palpitations)

The presence of these symptoms alone does not conclude the diagnosis of CFS, and a doctor must be consulted for further investigation.

What causes chronic fatigue syndrome?

Anyone can develop CFS but it is more commonly seen in people between the age of 40 and 60 years. Women are more likely to develop the condition than men. The exact reason for CFS has not been found yet. However, scientists believe that some of the possible triggers of CFS include:

  • Genetic predisposition: Scientists believe that people with a family history of CFS are at increased risk of developing the same. Studies are in progress to find out the exact gene that may result in CFS.
  • Infections: Studies have shown that severe infections caused by viruses and bacteria such as Epstein-Barr virus, Ross River virus, or Coxiella burnetti can increase the risk of developing CFS.
  • Stress: Continuous physical or emotional stress can reduce the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body resulting in inflammation and weakens the immune system, triggering CFS.
  • Changes in the immune system: Excessive production of inflammatory cells such as cytokines or reduced activity of natural killer cells can reduce the body’s ability to fight infections, hence, increasing the risk of developing CFS.

How is chronic fatigue syndrome treated?

There is no cure for chronic fatigue syndrome. However, the treatment is based on reducing the symptoms and improving the quality of life. The treatment of CFS include:

  1. Medications: People may consume pain-killer medications such as ibuprofen to relieve headache and muscle pain. Doctors may prescribe antidepressants such as amitriptyline to patients who have trouble sleeping.
  2. Graded exercise therapy (GET): GET is an exercise programme that helps in improving the stamina of the patient by gradually increasing the time and intensity of exercises being performed. This therapy usually involves aerobic exercises such as walking and swimming, as they help improve cardiovascular health.
  3. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): In CBT, therapists help the patient acknowledge the diagnosis and provide better ways to manage the condition. This therapy helps in reducing psychological stress and fatigue.
  4. Alternate therapies: Other therapies such as movement therapy, acupuncture, or relaxation therapy might help reducing pain and stress in some patients. However, very limited research has shown their effectiveness in treated CFS, therefore, one must consult a doctor before trying them.  
  5. Lifestyle changes:
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet with enough fibrous foods to prevent the feeling of being sick.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol and caffeinated beverages before going to bed as they initially depress the nervous system, which may help some people fall asleep, but as the effects wear off in a few hours people wake up.
  • Avoid using mobile phones or other electronic devices would also help as they restrict the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone.
  • Meditate, exercise, and practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques to counter stress.
  • Monitor blood pressure frequently. Increase salt and fluid intake if blood pressure is lower than normal, which is 120/80 mm Hg.

Conclusion

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a disabling condition that can confine people to bed. It is important to diagnose CFS early to improve the quality of life of the affected person. People suffering from CFS must not perform any vigorous unsupervised exercises as it can make their symptoms worse. People who experience frequent changes in their heart rate and blood pressure must consult a specialist such as a cardiologist or a neurologist.

Consult a general physician if you experience any symptoms of chronic fatigue.  

 

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