Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors
Chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as CFS, is a poorly understood condition that results in severe fatigue and other symptoms.
What is going on in the body?
The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is not known, although many theories exist. It is a chronic condition with an unpredictable course. It is not diagnosed until other medical conditions that cause fatigue are excluded. Treatment is limited by a lack of understanding of the disease process itself.
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is unknown. It is most likely that a combination of factors, rather than one single factor, brings about CFS in an individual. The list of possible factors includes the following:
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Symptoms & Signs
What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
The Center for Disease Control, or CDC, has established criteria for a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. First of all, the individual must have a recent history of fatigue. The fatigue must be severe and last, whether constant or not, for at least six months. This fatigue is not relieved by rest. It forces people to reduce their level of activity. Many people describe a sudden onset of fatigue triggered by a physical stress, such as an illness or injury.
At the same time, the person must have at least four of the following eight symptoms for CFS to be diagnosed:
Diagnosis & Tests
How is the condition diagnosed?
The most important part of the diagnosis of CFS is to rule out other causes for fatigue. There are many medical illnesses that can cause fatigue. These include infections, hormone imbalances, immune system diseases, and even cancer. To rule out other conditions, a medical history and physical exam are performed. Multiple blood tests and a urine test are then done. Further tests, such as X-ray tests, may be ordered.
There is no one test that can make a diagnosis of CFS. The diagnosis of CFS is generally made when no other cause can be found for a person’s fatigue and other symptoms.
Prevention & Expectations
What can be done to prevent the condition?
There are no known effective measures to prevent chronic fatigue syndrome.
What are the long-term effects of the condition?
The long-term effects of CFS relate to the person’s severe fatigue. Affected people may be unable to work or go to school. They may lack the energy to form or keep relationships with other people. This can result in depression and a feeling of hopelessness. Friends and healthcare providers may also have a negative attitude toward a person with CFS.
What are the risks to others?
Chronic fatigue syndrome is not contagious and poses no risks to others.
Treatment & Monitoring
What are the treatments for the condition?
Treatment must be tailored to fit each person with chronic fatigue syndrome, depending on symptoms and response to different therapies. There are two types of therapy: behavior therapy and drug therapy.
Behavior therapy may include:
Drug therapy may include:
Because chronic fatigue syndrome is difficult to treat and the course of the disease is unpredictable, many people with CFS use alternative therapies to relieve or reduce symptoms. Some of these therapies include:
What are the side effects of the treatments?
NSAIDs can cause stomach upset and allergic reactions. Antidepressants may cause problems sleeping, headaches, or stomach upset.
What happens after treatment for the condition?
The course of CFS is very difficult to predict. Fortunately, most people eventually get better with or without treatment, though a cure is often not possible. People may return to normal activities whenever they feel able.
How is the condition monitored?
Affected people are in the best position to monitor the condition. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.
Article type: xmedgeneral