What are the potential causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
The causes of chronic fatigue syndrome, CFS, has baffled scientists and researchers for decades. The condition was recognized as a specific entity as far back as the late 1860’s when physician Dr. George Beard named it neurasthesia because it appeared to be related to a nervous disorder that caused weakness and fatigue.
Today researchers have a list of different medical conditions that may be at the root cause of chronic fatigue syndrome. While there isn’t a definitive answer there are some suggestions that have led to changes in the treatment protocols for the disease. Some of these causes include low blood glucose condition, anemia and environmental allergies. These causes produce the same symptoms as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome but also have treatments that don’t erase the problems associated with CFS.
Other causes that have been suggested for CFS include case studies that associate CFS following a bout with infectious mononucleosis (mono). Others report that they had symptoms following periods of great stress in their life such as the loss of a loved one or following major surgery. All of these will cause the extreme tiredness that is common with CFS but they don’t always have the other symptoms that are indicative of the condition.
Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complex condition that is often difficult for physicians and patients to diagnose. The symptoms can be confused with other medical conditions, especially fibromyalgia. Both of these conditions have similar symptoms but with different proportions.
For example, fatigue is a symptom that is common to both diagnosis but in chronic fatigue syndrome it is at a greater degree than the fatigue that people with fibromyalgia experience. The fatigue that a person with CFS experiences isn’t restored by sleep or rest. In fact, most people with CFS complain that it is difficult to wake up in the morning and get out of bed.
Another symptom that is common to both conditions is joint pain. People with CFS may suffer from joints that are red and swollen while people with fibromyalgia may suffer from more generalized joint pain but have tender points over specific muscular areas.
Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome can also include cognitive difficulties. These include problems with short term memory and concentration. They often complain that they can’t get their mind to focus on the task at hand and may forget things that happened earlier that day. They also have word find problems, or problems finding the appropriate word to use in a sentence during normal conversation.
Chronic fatigue syndrome also affects the ability of the sufferer to recover from exertion that didn’t affect them prior to developing these symptoms. This post exertional fatigue can affect them for up to 24 hours after the exercise when prior to developing CFS they wouldn’t have been tired at all.
Sufferers of CFS also complain of depression. Doctors aren’t sure if the depression is related to the condition or as a result of the symptoms that the patient must suffer each day. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention there are between 1 and 4 million people who suffer from CFS. They also estimate that this number is lower than it should be because many people don’t seek medical advise for their problems.
The CDC also has found that there are approximately 25% of those people diagnosed with CFS who are either unemployed or on disability because they are unable to work. People with CFS will also suffer from headaches, sore throat and muscle aches that contribute to their disability and difficulty in holding a job.
Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome can also include a mild fever that continues for several days or weeks. These fevers are low grade and can contribute to the overall general malaise the patient may feel.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complex disease that has no current causative agent identified and no known cure. Doctors are able to help patients decrease their symptoms and give them supportive care to increase their ability to work productively. Knowledge of the symptoms and how to improve them can help both patients and physicians increase their success rates.
Some researchers believe that CFS is related to infections that affect the immune system of the body. Because the immune system is responsible for protecting the body from infection, once it is damaged other more opportunistic infections which normally wouldn’t be able to infect the body, cause problems.
There has been some evidence that bacteria Chlamydia pneumonia can be a cause of CFS in some cases. People who have CFS related to this bacteria will respond well to the administration of antibiotics. This association continues to be debated. If the fatigue associated with the infection is accompanied with short-term memory problems or issues with concentration then it is possible it is related to CFS.
Another of the infections that has been associated with CFS is the Epstein-Barr virus or EBV. This virus does cause mono or the kissing disease. For many years it was thought that this virus was associated with the symptoms of CFS but now it is known that it is associated with a long-term mononucleosis infection.
Researchers have found that multiple nutrient deficiencies, food intolerances and extreme mental or physical stress can trigger chronic fatigue syndrome. Some researchers have found that certain patients suffering from CFS also have low levels of neurotransmitters. Thyroid deficiencies are also contributing factors.
The important thing to remember is that at this time there is no definitive cause that has been identified for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Although scientists have theories and ideas they haven’t found a reason that crosses all patients with the condition. At this point the best treatment has been to treat the symptoms and give supportive care until the causes of chronic fatigue syndrome can be found.
Diagnosis and Treatment Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or CFS, is a debilitating disorder in which the sufferer experiences a profound fatigue that doesn’t improve with bed rest. In fact, with most sufferers their symptoms worsen with physical or mental activity. Sufferers complain that these aren’t the normal ups and downs of everyday life but rather is an overwhelming fatigue that seems to go on without end. Instead people who suffer from this condition often report that is steals their energy over months and sometimes even years.
People who suffer from CFS will function at a lower level of activity than they did before the onset of their disease. They report that they feel fatigued, weakness, muscle pain, impaired memory, insomnia or post-exertional fatigue that lasts more than 24 hours.
The causes of CFS hasn’t been identified as yet. And, there isn’t a single diagnostic test that is available to help physicians determine the presence of the condition. These two factors combine to make a diagnosis more difficult for physicians and patients alike. Some of the criteria which the CDC use in the diagnosis of CFS are the presence of symptoms for six months or longer without other known medical conditions and patients exhibit at least four of a list of several symptoms for that length of time.
Your physician will spend time ruling out the diagnosis of other medical conditions that may appear to be Chronic Fatigue Syndrome such as diabetes or thyroid disease. Scientists have found that people of every age, gender and ethnicity can have CFS, that it affects women at four times the rate of men, and is more common in people in their 40’s and 50’s.
The CDC estimates that there are between 1 and 4 million people in the U.S. who suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Of those, 25% are unemployed or are collecting disability related to their condition. Research by the CDC also indicate that approximately 20% of those with CFS have been diagnosed which means the numbers of those who are suffering is much higher.
At this time there is no known cure for CFS so treatment is aimed specifically at relief of the symptoms and improvement of function for the sufferer. Physicians evaluate the condition of the sufferer and will recommend a combination of drugs and non-drug therapies.
Unfortunately there is no single therapy that helps all CFS patients. Physicians will recommend lifestyle changes which includes prevention of overexertion, reducing stress, changing the diet and restricting foods that negatively impact the immune system such as sugar and processed foods. By including gentle exercise such as stretching, nutritional supplementation and improving sleep patterns patients have found that improvement in their symptoms.
There may be times when the physician will recommend supervised physical therapy. But, because exercise can exacerbate the symptoms a moderate approach to activity and exercise must be recommended. Use of physical therapy will help patients to avoid too much deconditioning while they are suffering from the symptoms.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has found that the earlier the diagnosis has been made and treatment started the better the response rate of the patients and the success rate of the treatment. It isn’t clear if early intervention is responsible for more favorable outcomes but it does appear that the longer a person is sick the more complicated the illness appears to get.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome affects each person differently. Some people remain homebound while others improve to the point that they can go back to work and other activities. The CDC has found that the rate of improvement does vary from between 8% and 63%. Because full recovery from CFS is rare it is important that people are diagnosed early to decrease the possible complications.
Cognitive behavior therapy and chronic fatigue syndrome
While experts and researchers continue to investigate the causes and try to come to a better understanding of chronic fatigue syndrome, (CFS), there are many different approaches being considered. Although it is beginning to become better understood that CFS is a physiological condition, there are still many that believe that there may be psychological considerations as well. In that regard, cognitive behavior therapy and chronic fatigue syndrome are being looked at together as a possible course of treatment.
Cognitive behavior therapy is a form of psychotherapy which is used short term to try changing the way a person thinks, acts and communicates in the hopes of changing emotions about certain things, such as their health. It is a very common therapy for people who are suffering from depression, addictions and eating disorders.
Cognitive behavior therapy is really used as a way for people to be able to regain some sense of control, and it is in fact proving to offer some benefits to sufferers of CFS. For CFS patients, cognitive therapy is used to get the patient to think differently about their fatigue and help improve their ability to deal with situations that are stressful to them and manage their condition.
The patients will undergo several sessions, which will include many things they will need to take part in. Some of these tasks include keeping a diary where they keep track of their energy levels throughout the day, adjusting their schedule around their fatigue, setting limits and accepting when they have relapses.
All of these tasks of self observation and specific plans are used try and move their thinking away from them being helpless against their fatigue. They are guided toward thinking more as the fatigue as a negative part of their lives, but that it can be manageable.
There are many studies that support the idea that cognitive therapy can help those suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. But, it is important to note that not all studies support these findings, and there is still much research that needs to be done. All treatment options need to be considered, and it is important that people do realize that CFS is a real condition, and it is not just in the mind.
Whatever the outcome, it is a well known fact that the mind can act as a powerful healer and can improve overall health. Having a positive outlook is important for treating any condition, and this is no exception. There will continue to be more research into cognitive behavior therapy and chronic fatigue syndrome as far as seeing how they can be used together, and hopefully there will be more treatment options available to those who are suffering from this debilitating condition.