Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS) is a condition of prolonged and severe tiredness or weariness (fatigue) that is not relieved by rest and is not directly caused by other conditions.
To be diagnosed with this condition, your tiredness must be severe enough to decrease your ability to participate in ordinary activities by 50%.
According to MediLexicon's medical dictionary:
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a syndrome of persistent incapacitating weakness or fatigue, accompanied by nonspecific somatic symptoms, lasting at least 6 months, and not attributable to any known cause.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is much more than just feeling tired a lot. People with ME/CFS are so run down that it interferes with their lives and can make it hard to function at all. Some people with ME/CFS say they have trouble staying on top of their responsibilities at home and on the job, while others are severely disabled and even bedridden. Furthermore, they're not just dealing with extreme fatigue but with a wide range of other symptoms, including flu-like symptoms and chronic pain.
When referring to chronic fatigue syndrome, patients and patient advocates often prefer to call the condition chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS) to convey the complexity of the illness and its profound impact on people's lives.
For unknown reasons CFS occurs most often in people in their 40s and 50s, more often in women than men, and is less prevalent among children and adolescents.
Employment rates through the past decade vary with over half unable to work and nearly two-thirds limited in their work because of their illness. More than half were on disability benefits or temporary sick leave, and less than a fifth worked full-time.
Literature on ME/CFS (by different names) dates back to the 1700s. Through the centuries, it's been falsely attributed to various causes and is only now beginning to be better understood by medical science.
Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome
A symptom is something the patient senses and describes, while a sign is something other people, such as the doctor notice. For example, drowsiness may be a symptom while dilated pupils may be a sign.
Symptoms of CFS are similar to those of most common viral infections (muscle aches, headache, and fatigue). They come on within a few hours or days and last for 6 months or more.
Fatigue is only a part of chronic fatigue syndrome
Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome can include:
- Tender lymph nodes
- Sore throat
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Feeling tired
- Feeling discomfort after physical exertion.
These symptoms either stay with a person or come and go for more than six months. It's important to note that the signs and symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome are often similar to those of other health conditions.
Patients report critical reductions in levels of physical activity and a reduction in the complexity of activity has been observed, with reported impairment comparable to other fatiguing medical conditions such as late-stage AIDS, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and the effects of chemotherapy. CFS affects a person's functional status and well-being more than major medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, congestive heart failure, or type II diabetes mellitus.
While some lead relatively normal lives, others are totally bed-ridden and unable to care for themselves.
On the next page we look at the causes of chronic fatigue syndrome, diagnosis and treatment options. We also discuss the way forward for CFS/ME sufferers.