Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Everything you need to know about the syndrome that affects approximately 250,000 people in the UK
Updated: Tuesday 17 November 2020
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) is a long-term illness where the main symptom is extreme tiredness. CFS/ME can affect anyone however, it most commonly occurs in women between their mid-20’s-40’s and approximately 250,000 people live with ME in the UK and around 17 million people worldwide.
Causes of CFS/ME
There are a number of suggestions of the causes of CFS/ME because there is not a known cause. Some of the possible causes include:
- Some bacterial or viral infections
- Hormone imbalance
- Stress/emotional trauma
- Problems with the immune system
CFS/ME can also suddenly occur on its own or develop slowly over time.
The most effective way of diagnosing CFS/ME is ruling out other possible known causes of the symptoms, as there is no definitive way to detect CFS/ME. Making a list of the symptoms you experience helps the GP with their diagnoses. GP’s usually make a mental and physical examination of you, review any current medication you are taking and arrange for blood tests to be taken to investigate further to rule out the possibility of anaemia or an underactive thyroid.
With the main symptom being extreme tiredness, anybody that is suffering from CFS/ME will find it difficult to perform their daily tasks. This is something that doesn’t go away with just relaxation or sleep.
Other symptoms may include:
- Dizziness or feeling sick
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Issues in concentrating and memory
Not everyone has the same symptoms and the duration of CFS/ME does vary from person to person. The severity of symptoms does vary from mild to severe.
- Mild – Although you can carry out daily tasks, the individual does do it with some degree of difficulty. From time to time, the individual may decide to take a break from their hobbies or socialise to rest.
- Moderate – Difficulty in carrying our daily tasks because there are some issues with moving around and may also have trouble sleeping. They may also find themselves finding it hard to go into work.
- Severe – Day to day tasks prove extremely difficult, and the individual may find themselves housebound or using a wheelchair. Leaving the house will be a struggle because individuals would be more sensitive to noise and light so it will be very hard for them to concentrate in the outside world.
The treatment will vary for each individual, but a treatment plan should be made according to the symptoms felt. Whilst some people will make a full recovery, some may go through waves where the symptoms are worse, then get better after a period of time.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – This helps you to changing thought and behaviours to help manage the symptoms of CFS. It allows you to feel more in control of your symptoms and change the way you feel about CFS. There is a greater understanding on how your behaviour affects the way your condition to help you accept your diagnosis.
- Graded Exercise Therapy (GET) – GET helps to incorporate more physical activity into your lives by introducing a structured exercise programme carried out by a specialist.
- Medication – Whilst there is no specific medication to treat CFS/ME, however over the counter medication can help to relieve some of the symptoms such as headaches.
How to deal with CFS/ME – Lifestyle changes
Keeping fit and regular movement i.e. going for walks will keep you active. Stretching and strength building exercises can also help such as hand stretches, wall push ups and grasping objects.
A well balanced, nutritious diet can help with boost your energy. It might be difficult to constantly prepare meals, so eating little, but often will help keep energy levels up.
- Symptom Diary
Keeping a note of your symptoms and communicating these to your GP will help to gage a deeper understanding of what the triggers are and develop a unique plan to help you cope with CFS/ME.