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10 Essential Facts about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

June 27th, 2011

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Chronic fatigue syndrome is a debilitating disease that affects millions of people around the world, but less than 20 percent of people know they have it. Those who suffer from CFS experience severe fatigue and pain that does not improve with rest. Although CFS is gaining more attention from physicians, health insurance companies, and the pharmaceutical industry, there still remains a great deal of mystery and misunderstanding about this complex disorder. Here are 10 essential facts about chronic fatigue syndrome:

  1. CFS is a real disease: Chronic fatigue syndrome is a real disease that affects an estimated one million Americans and millions of others worldwide. Contrary to popular belief, those who suffer from CFS aren't just tired; they also experience debilitating symptoms like muscle and joint pain, headaches, sleep complications, sore throat and memory problems. Many have doubted the legitimacy of CFS as a real disease because there is no definitive test for diagnosing a patient. Until a physical cause for CFS is found, it may continue to carry the stigma as a made up condition instead of the real illness that it is.
  2. The cause of CFS is unknown: CFS is one of the most mysterious chronic illnesses because the cause is still unknown. Even though researchers and doctors don't know the exact cause or causes of this complex disorder, they have proposed several possible factors. CFS has been linked to virus infections, as well as traumatic conditions, stress and toxins. Initially, CFS was thought to be caused exclusively by Epstein-Barr virus, but that is no longer the case. In addition to viruses and infectious agents, researchers also propose that CFS could also be caused by an immunologic dysfunction, physical or emotional stress or neurally mediated hypotension.
  3. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with CFS: CFS can occur in either sex, but women are diagnosed with the disorder at least four times as often as men. Even though more women are diagnosed with CFS, it's not necessarily more common in women. A possible explanation for this is that women may be more likely than men to see their doctor for their chronic symptoms and receive a diagnosis.
  4. There is no cure for CFS: Unfortunately, there is no cure for CFS as of right now; however, there are several remedies to effectively relieve your symptoms and help you feel more energized. Those suffering from CFS can find relief by making certain lifestyle changes, such as stopping the things that trigger tiredness and monitoring daily energy levels. You can also take over-the-counter pain relievers and prescription medications to ease nagging symptoms. Alternative treatments like massage, yoga, acupuncture, stretching and chiropractic care have also been shown to improve the effects of CFS.
  5. Anyone can get CFS: CFS can happen to anyone regardless of your age, race, gender or socio-economic status. Although more women than men are diagnosed with CFS, both sexes are prone to developing CFS. Another misconception about CFS is that it only affects older adults, but the syndrome can actually happen to any age group, specifically people 15 to 20 years and people 33 to 45 years. However, it is rare for anyone under the age of 12 to develop CFS.
  6. The CFS prognosis varies greatly among patients: Much like the causes and treatments of CFS, little is understood about the prognosis of patients suffering from the disease. It is also unknown how many patients actually recover from CFS. Some patients completely recover and can return to work, and other activities within six months to a year. Others may take longer to overcome the disease and might struggle with symptoms periodically. In some cases, a patient's condition may grow progressively worse. CFS has a tendency to come and go in a cyclical course.
  7. CFS patients must manage their activity and exercise: Patients with CFS have to manage their activity and exercise levels so that they don't overexert themselves. Avoiding exercise altogether is not the answer because it can cause serious deconditioning and make symptoms worse. CFS patients are advised not to perform vigorous aerobic exercise because their bodies cannot tolerate the same exercise levels as other patients with chronic illnesses. For optimal results, CFS patients have to find a balance between activity and rest. By doing so, they can improve their sleep, mood and reduce pain.
  8. Patients must satisfy certain criterion to be diagnosed with CFS: After a physician has evaluated a patient's history of illness and eliminated other medical conditions, a CFS diagnosis can be determined by two sets of criteria. First, the patient must have severe chronic fatigue that has lasted for at least six months. Secondly, at least four of the following symptoms must be present: Multi-joint pain without swelling or redness, lymph node tenderness in neck or armpit, muscle aches, post-exertional malaise that lasts more than 24 hours, sore throat, impaired short-term memory or difficulty concentration or unrefreshing sleep.
  9. CFS is not contagious: It's important to note that although CFS may be caused by infectious agents, it is not known to be contagious. Research involving close human contacts does not show any evidence that CFS is spread person to person. Also, the features typical of contagious diseases do not match those of CFS. Most contagious diseases are affected by seasonal or regional occurrence, travel history, occupation, injection drug use, sexual behavior and exposure to animals.
  10. CFS sufferers may qualify for disability benefits: Those who are bedridden and severely impaired by their CFS may find financial relief through the Social Security Administration. In order to determine one's eligibility for disability benefits, the SSA will evaluate an individual's symptoms and the severity of their illness. The patient's medical history and records will be analyzed, along with their clinical and laboratory findings, mental status examinations and explanation of physical limitations, which are measured by standard physical or occupational therapy practices.

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