Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: 7 Things You Need to Know About This Disorder

There is much unknown about chronic fatigue syndrome. Signified by extreme fatigue, CFS can cause a host of issues to the body.

A young woman sleep on a chair near the window with a book open

America is a stressed-out nation. This affects everything we do and don’t do, and over time can lead to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), a disorder signified by extreme fatigue.

However, this isn’t just feeling tired. CFS is long-term and debilitating that can impact how you perform daily activities and even lead some people to bedridden. Over time, this can lead to depression, sleeplessness, physical pain, and affect your ability to concentrate and short-term memory.

Additionally, this ailment can worsen with physical or mental activity. Unfortunately, even sleep can’t improve it and it can’t be explained by any underlying medical condition. For these reasons, it frustrates those who suffer from it as they don’t understand exactly what it is or what caused it.

And sufferers are not alone.

According to the CDC, more than 1 million Americans are affected by CFS. Due to the complex nature of this ailment, it is difficult to diagnose. Often this happens after 6 months of experiencing incapacitating symptoms.

Below, you’ll find more about CFS including its symptoms, causes, remedies, and its connection to COVID. Read on to learn more about chronic fatigue syndrome.

1. Complexity of Diagnosing CFS 

The complexity of this disorder is that it is unknown and vague. Many, including doctors, don’t understand it or know what causes it. In the past, doctors told people suffering from CFS that they were hysterical or that their symptoms were physical manifestations of their psychological condition. A study conducted on CFS patients shows that 77% of the responders have had a negative experience with doctors.

However, some say it’s related to stress, illness, infection like a cold, or a virus like the Epstein-Barr virus — the cause of mononucleosis. With so many variables, it’s no wonder why those suffering often feel confused by this ailment. If you feel you might have CFS, it is important to visit a doctor for an assessment.

2. What are Some Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms?

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) interprets it as a disorder characterized by extreme tiredness, however, sleep and rest alone cannot improve it.

Ranging from mild to severe, early chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms are often signified by extreme fatigue that comes on suddenly. Additionally, it can also affect different parts of the body where you might experience headaches, weakness, muscle and joint pain, restlessness, issues with concentration, or memory loss.

3. How Chronic Fatigue Affects the Body

An african american woman touching her back pain on bed
Many people who have CFS experience back pain.

Unfortunately, this ailment is complex and no fun for those suffering. Below, you’ll find some ways how it impacts the body:

  • Blurred vision or dizziness
  • Tender lymph nodes
  • Extreme tiredness that lasts for at least six months and doesn’t improve with rest 
  • Muscle pain or aches
  • Chills or night sweats
  • Constant headaches
  • Constant sore throat
  • Flu-like symptoms, including headache or dizziness and sore throat 
  • Issues with remembering, thinking, and concentrating (commonly called brain fog) 
  • Fast, irregular heartbeats (heart palpitations) 
  • Mental health problems such as stress, depression, and anxiety 

As you can see, the symptoms greatly range that can defer from person to person. From TCM’s point of view, fatigue is harmful to your liver, kidney, and spleen. The liver itself circulates qi, or the energy responsible for the workings of the human body. Therefore, fatigue can affect the liver. This causes the flow of the qi to be disrupted as well, leading to illnesses. 

TCM divides the illnesses into four categories: qi deficiency, yin deficiency, yang deficiency, and blood deficiency.

4. Who’s at Risk for CFS?

A middle age woman suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome as she sits in agony
While anyone can suffer from CFS, the majority of those impacted are women.

Anyone can be at risk of CFS. However, American women are 2 to 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with this disorder than men. Additionally, CFS is mainly found in middle-aged women, mainly in their mid-30s to mid-40s. However, children can suffer from CFS where scientists estimate that 2 out of 100 children have this condition.

Due to the unknown nature of this disorder, scientists estimate that around 90% of people with ME/CFS go undiagnosed.

5. What are the Causes of CFS?

Part of the reason why CFS is unknown is that it is often misunderstood. Researchers have not yet found the causes and there are no specific laboratory tests to diagnose CFS/ME. In fact, most medical schools in the U.S. don’t have CFS as part of their training.

Interestingly, there isn’t even a test that could help medical professionals to diagnose it. Doctors have to conduct an in-depth evaluation of a person’s symptoms and history. However, this is changing, in part due to COVID-19. Many doctors are now seeing a correlation between CFS symptoms, and its connection to COVID long-haulers.

6. CFS and COVID-19

An old man wearing mask at home suffering from long covid, talking with a doctor
More studies show a connection between COVID and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Recently, experts have discovered that CFS shares a connection with COVID. A 2021 study showed that those who suffer from CFS and COVID both have a redox imbalance. This includes cellular damage and various pathological conditions. Incredibly, the study showed similar impacts of both conditions that are linked to inflammation and energy metabolic defects.

Additionally, studies have shown that patients suffering from long COVID are experiencing symptoms that are reminiscent of CFS/ME. Studies also show that COVID-19 could double the existing number of patients with CFS/ME in the United States over the next two to four years.

Currently, research is still being conducted to find a cure for long COVID. This, in turn, would help CFS patients as well.

7. How to Stop Fatigue

A father, mother, and daughter doing meditation at home
Meditation is a great way to relax and combat fatigue.

As a tired, overworked nation, it might seem as if it’s impossible to stop fatigue. While there are no current guidelines to treat CSF, there are many ways to take care of yourself as well as guidance you might receive from a doctor or TCM practices.

Luckily, TCM offers some alternative remedies and treatments — although they cannot cure CSF entirely, they can greatly alleviate symptoms. For example, you can start or wind down your day with a cup of ginseng tea. Many also take American ginseng, as a part of their diet, which can reduce stress as well as strengthen the immune system. It can also boost energy and fight fatigue. Other fatigue-fighting herbs include Chinese yam and high potency Cordyceps. Additionally, you can try lingzhi, which can boost the immune system, calm the mind, and replenish your qi and blood.

Additionally, TCM suggests acupuncture, cupping, and tui na massage to correct imbalances in the body, thus providing relief for CFS patients. 

While living with this condition is challenging, the way to heal starts with awareness. Those suffering should also get plenty of sleep, stay hydrated, keep their body moving, go to therapy, meditate, and seek support from friends and family as well as a doctor. Additionally, talking to others who have chronic fatigue syndrome can help.

This is an adaptation of an article, “Dealing with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang website.

References

  1. Office of Women’s Health. 2019. Chronic fatigue syndrome. [Accessed on December 1, 2021]
  2. NCBI. 2015. Onset Patterns and Course of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. [Accessed December 1, 2021]
  3. Mayo Clinic. 2020. Chronic fatigue syndrome. [Accessed December 1, 2021]
  4. PNAS. 2021. Redox imbalance links COVID-19 and myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. [Accessed December 1, 2021]
  5. John Hopkins Medicine. 2020. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. [Accessed December 1, 2021]
  6. CDC. 2021. Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. [Accessed December 1, 2021]
  7. National Institutes of Health. 2017. About ME/CFS. [Accessed December 1, 2021]

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