Chronic Fatigue Syndrome—there is hope!
Imagine waking up every morning feeling like you have a hangover combined with the flu, and even the smallest amount of activity leaves you exhausted? That’s what life is like for almost a quarter of a million Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) sufferers in the UK. Also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), this mysterious illness has only recently finally been officially recognised by the Department of Health.
So what is CFS? Why is it surrounded in mystery? And how do you know if you have got it?
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a devastating and debilitating potentially chronic illness that is characterised by profound exhaustion, muscle pain and cognitive problems such as memory and concentration loss. Other symptoms that are common include sensitivity to light, noise and smell; disturbed sleep patterns and persistent headaches. These symptoms fluctuate from day to day.
The reasons why it is mysterious is because no two patients are the same. It is difficult to diagnose because there aren’t any conventional recognised tests for it, and there are various causes, although it is estimated that around two-thirds of all cases are preceded by a viral infection of some kind. Other contributing factors include neurotoxins (such as organophosphates), exhaustion, mental stress and poor diet.
What are the warning signs? Fatigue is the principal symptom; it is severe, disabling and affects physical and mental functioning. Other typical symptoms include muscle pain and aching on minimal exercise, as well as mood and sleep disturbance. If any of this rings true for you then you should see your GP as it is important to have other disorders ruled out, such as abnormal thyroid function and depression, amongst others.
Symptoms need to have been present for a prolonged period of time for a true diagnosis to be made.
If your GP makes the diagnosis what should you do?
We encourage people to work towards recovery in order to get back to their normal lives. Finding the best balance between rest and activity is essential, remembering that most people do improve over time to a significant degree.
Rest from mental activity and emotional stress is also very important, particularly in the early stages of the illness, however it is possible to rest too much as your muscles may become de-conditioned. ”Pacing” means alternating activity with rest, also alternating different activities e.g. mental work with physical tasks, stopping each before you become exhausted.
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