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There is more to chronic fatigue syndrome than fatigue

Updated: Feb 18, 2019


We all feel tired some time or the other, mostly after a hard day’s work. We then take a break, have a bite or drink coffee or tea and get back to work. This can happen quite often in some persons and less often in some others, but that’s all within normal limits, so no one complains. If tiredness gets prolonged or more severe, we call it fatigue which is still not alarming as it is reversible and short-lived. But when fatigue becomes chronic, it needs expert attention, and not off-hand dismissal as “it’s all in the mind”.


Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is commoner than one would think. It is a complicated disorder characterized by severe fatigue that cannot be explained by any underlying medical condition. The fatigue may worsen with physical or mental activity, but interestingly it does not go away with rest, so the medical researchers have coined different terminologies for it, such as systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID) or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). The latter term is somewhat frightening but it just literally means muscle pain (myalgic) with inflammation of brain tissue (encephalomyelitis). ME and SEID often go together.


CFS is for real and cannot be pooh-poohed away. Its cause is not yet clear. A combination of factors may trigger it e.g. viral infection or psychological stress. There could be immunological problems or hormonal imbalances. There is no single laboratory test that can precisely point to CFS.


The signs and symptoms of CFS include unexplained muscle or joint pain, fatigue, loss of memory or concentration, sore throat, enlarged lymph nodes in neck or armpit, headache, unrefreshing sleep and other nonspecific symptoms. CFS is more common in women and those in their 40s, 50s and beyond. Possible complications of chronic fatigue syndrome include depression, social isolation, absenteeism and other psychological disturbances.


Treatment is largely supportive as there is no one single factor to pinpoint. Pain killers will help only up to a point and their overuse will lead to other complications. Lifestyle modifications are a must, and so are professional counselling and support group participation.


It is possible that those with CFS are by and large maladjusted to their social surroundings and family interactions and are not resilient enough to bear the shocks and tribulations of modern living. It is important to extend to them continuous support from all possible angles so that they don’t slide into depression (www.mayoclinic.org, accessed 6 January 2019).

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