Tiredness is something that we all experience. It’s a natural response after a long day, or a night punctuated by restless sleep and irritating wake-ups for no reason. It’s the way our bodies respond to exercise, stress, or any emotional upheaval we have to go through. Tiredness, in and of itself, is just a natural part of being a human.
There are cases, however, when tiredness is not so much a natural part of life as a sign of an underlying health condition. If you suddenly experience an increase in your tiredness levels for no discernible reason, then it’s usually a cause for a visit to the doctor. It could be an indicator of one of a number of different conditions – but on occasion, you’re tired because of tiredness. The underlying condition? Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Essentially, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is tiredness with no physical basis. There’s no reason for the tiredness; no late nights, no burning the candle at both ends, nothing that could be traced as the cause.
It’s also tiredness that can’t really be alleviated. Those of us without CFS are used to fatigue having a very simple remedy: we go to sleep and we wake up feeling refreshed. It’s pretty simple, really.
For those with CFS, dealing with the level of fatigue they experience isn’t simple – in fact, it’s the exact opposite. Sleep doesn’t really ‘cure’ the fatigue; they wake up feeling tired, no matter how many restorative naps they have.
The syndrome is also defined by general body complaints, such as muscle soreness, painful limbs, headaches, and even memory loss.
Who Gets Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
It’s more likely to afflict women than men, but that aside, there are few identifiable reasons why CFS will strike. While being a fairly common ailment, relatively little is known about CFS. There are some suggestions for possible causes, ranging from hormonal imbalances to a previous health history involving viral infections – but there’s no definitive cause.
One of the problems with studying CFS is that you may have it, but have no idea that you do. Tiredness is fairly common in modern society. Not only do most of us live in a busy cycle dependent on the rat-race, but we have also damaged our ability to sleep naturally due to the prevalence of artificial lighting. A huge number of people experience tiredness on a daily basis – but so do their family and friends. So if you voice to people around you that you seem to be excessively tired, they will often just mirror right back to you their own fatigue – meaning you might not even notice that your situation is abnormal. This makes for difficult diagnoses, and of course means that some sufferers are struggling with a health condition they are receiving no assistance for.
How Is CFS Treated?
Due to the somewhat vague understanding of CFS, there is no conventional treatment route for the condition. Instead, a variety of different treatments are used, more focused on alleviating the symptoms than what many would recognize as a “cure”. These include:
- The muscle pain and joint stiffness is usually remedied as part of a health plan, often obtained with the assistance of physical health services that are tailored specifically for those with CFS. Yoga, for example, seems to be beneficial for alleviating some of the discomfort.
- An understanding of the “Spoon Theory” can help those with CFS cope with their condition and learn to manage their energy levels.
- CFS is highly comorbid with depression. Some sufferers find that an antidepressant is helpful in controlling their depressive symptoms, making them feel more comfortable with managing the fatigue that they experience.
- Sometimes, psychological and behavior modification can help with CFS. This is usually focused around learning good habits of sleep hygiene, making the most of exercise, and how best to deal with the condition and the mental health side effects it can cause. While psychological training cannot cure CFS, it can make it easier to manage for those who have it.
How Is CFS Diagnosed?
There is no blood test or scan that can confirm a diagnosis of CFS. Instead, diagnosis is usually based on patient reporting. There is set of diagnostic criteria that must be satisfied; most doctors will want to see five of the key eight criteria satisfied:
- Tiredness that is not alleviated by sleeping.
- Headaches, including migraine.
- Memory loss or struggles with concentration.
- Enlarged lymph nodes despite no obvious infection. Lymph nodes are primarily found in the groin, armpit, and neck.
- Transient pain across different joins, despite no obvious injury or sign of external trauma.
- Persistent sore throat with no obvious infectious cause.
- General fatigue and daytime tiredness.
- Exhaustion as a result of physical exercise, which usually lasts for more than 24 hours.
What Should You Do If This Sounds Familiar?
Finally, what should you do if you have read through this article and thought: “hang on a minute… that sounds like me.”
Given that there is no particular treatment for CFS, it can be tempting to just try and modify your behavior yourself and self-manage the condition. While not dangerous, this is unwise. For one thing, you need all the coping strategies you can get – something that is difficult to obtain without medical intervention. For another, there is a chance there will be a treatment in the future, which means you’re going to want CFS to be on your medical records so you can receive help as soon as possible.
It’s also important to check your symptoms out with a doctor, as they can be a sign of other health conditions. CFS is comorbid with a number of autoimmune disorders, for example, along with the previously mentioned propensity for depression in those with the condition. So checking things out with a doctor to see if you have reason for concern is a good idea. Take along a written sheet of why you think you might have the condition and work through it with your doctor. Diagnosis can be difficult to obtain, so if you’re not satisfied with the first answers you get, then seek a second opinion – CFS can be managed, so have no qualms about making a lot of noise until you get the help you deserve.