Finding Cures for Chronic Fatigue
Chronic fatigue syndrome shares symptoms with many other disorders. Fatigue, for instance, is found in hundreds of illnesses, and 10% to 25% of all patients who visit general practitioners complain of prolonged fatigue. The nature of the symptoms, however, can help clinicians differentiate CFS from other illnesses.
As the name chronic fatigue syndrome suggests, this illness is accompanied by fatigue. However, it's not the kind of fatigue patients experience after a particularly busy day or week, after a sleepless night or after a stressful event. It's a severe, incapacitating fatigue that isn't improved by bed rest and that may be exacerbated by physical or mental activity. It's an all-encompassing fatigue that results in a dramatic decline in both activity level and stamina.
People with CFS function at a significantly lower level of activity than they were capable of prior to becoming ill. The illness results in a substantial reduction in occupational, personal, social or educational activities.
A CFS diagnosis should be considered in patients who present with six months or more of unexplained fatigue accompanied by other characteristic symptoms. These symptoms include:
- cognitive dysfunction, including impaired memory or concentration
- postexertional malaise lasting more than 24 hours (exhaustion and increased symptoms) following physical or mental exercise
- unrefreshing sleep
- joint pain (without redness or swelling)
- persistent muscle pain
- headaches of a new type or severity
- tender cervical or auxiliary lymph nodes
- sore throat
Other Common Symptoms
In addition to the eight primary defining symptoms of CFS, a number of other symptoms have been reported by some CFS patients. The frequency of occurrence of these symptoms varies among patients. These symptoms include:
- irritable bowel, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea or bloating
- chills and night sweats
- brain fog
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- chronic cough
- visual disturbances (blurring, sensitivity to light, eye pain or dry eyes)
- allergies or sensitivities to foods, alcohol, odors, chemicals, medications or noise
- difficulty maintaining upright position (orthostatic instability, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, balance problems or fainting)
- psychological problems (depression, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, panic attacks)
- jaw pain
- weight loss or gain
Clinicians will need to consider whether such symptoms relate to a comorbid or an exclusionary condition; they should not be considered as part of CFS other than they can contribute to impaired functioning.