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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome, is a puzzling medical condition that usually strikes women ages 30 to 50, though anyone can have it, according to the National Institutes of Health. And up to one million people in the United States are affected, according to the CFIDS (Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome) Association of America. Because there is no known cause or even specific diagnosis, doctors have long puzzled over whether the syndrome is real. But doctors these days believe the syndrome should be treated seriously, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Stressed out sick woman
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Symptoms & Causes

Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by extreme fatigue that won't go away no matter how much rest you get. The syndrome officially includes the following symptoms: memory or concentration loss, sore throat, painful lymph nodes, muscle pain, pain that moves from joint to joint, headache, rough sleep and extreme tiredness, according to the Mayo Clinic.

There's also a laundry list of other potential symptoms not in the official definition of the syndrome, that include: pain in the abdomen, allergies, bloating, diarrhea, chest pain, coughing, dry mouth, dizziness, jaw pain, earache, psychological problems like irritability and depression, tingling, sensitivity to light, nausea, morning stiffness and weight gain or loss.

There's no known cause for the syndrome, though some researchers think it's linked with a virus, like the Epstein-Barr virus or the herpes virus-6, according to the National Institutes of Health. Some studies also suggest that it might be caused by an inflammation along the nervous system as a response to the immune system, the NIH said.

It's possible chronic fatigue syndrome is caused by age, stress, the environment or even genetics, according to the National Institutes of Health. Hypotension (chronic low blood pressure), depression, anemia and allergies are also possible causes, according to the Mayo Clinic.

 

Diagnosis & Tests

Chronic fatigue syndrome is only labeled after all other reasons for fatigue have been ruled out by a doctor, including immune disorders, drug dependence, infection, endocrine disorders, tumors, psychiatric and psychological illnesses like depression and muscle or nerve disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.

To fit the diagnosis for the syndrome, you must have four or more of the symptoms listed in the above section for six months or more, according to the Mayo Clinic. There is no other test beyond excluding what you don't have – that is, it's the last reason for your tiredness.

Lab tests are often not helpful and don't really say much, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Treatments & Medications

There is no known medication or treatment that can completely cure chronic fatigue syndrome. The Centers for Disease Control encourages people with the syndrome to create a support group of doctors, therapists and family. That's because not only do patients with the syndrome have to deal with the extreme tiredness, but also the uncertainty of when a certain symptom will take place, potential loss of independence, mood swings, changes in relationships with friends and family as a result of the tiredness and potential irritability, decreased sexual appetite and memory, according to the CDC.

Even though it's not possibly to cure the syndrome, it is possible to treat the symptoms. Keeping a healthy diet, taking antidepressants (if relevant), learning good sleep management techniques, taking necessary medication for pain and undergoing cognitive-behavioral therapy can be ways to help improve the condition, according to the National Institutes of Health. It's also a good idea to know your limits in stressful or challenging activity and your tiredness levels.

Reducing stress and promoting relaxation through biofeedback, deep breathing, massage, meditation and yoga are also ways to help cope with chronic fatigue syndrome, according to the National Institutes of Health.

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