Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disorder that has yet to be fully explained. The symptoms may vary widely from patient to patient. It is not known what causes it, but in some cases it is believed it could be linked to a previous illness. People who suffer from this disorder experience constant tiredness that cannot be explained. It can occur even with adequate sleep, which partially explains why doctors are usually at a loss as to why it occurs. There are believed to be anywhere from one to four million Americans with the condition.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is usually accompanied by cognitive problems, such as short term memory loss and trouble concentrating. Because the condition is not fully understood, physicians must be able to identify certain symptoms before a patient can be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. These are:
Extreme fatigue that has lasted for six months or more. The doctor would have to rule out any other reason that could lead to fatigue.
If the patient experiences four or more of these symptoms at the same time:
- sore throat
- problems with memory and concentration
- muscle and joint paint
- tiredness even after sleeping
- tender lymph nodes
- headaches that constantly change in pattern or intensity
Dealing with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
The treatment of this condition is usually focused on helping patients cope with its debilitating effects. This is due to the fact that no cause has yet been pinpointed, hence specific treatment is difficult. Physicians attempt to help patients return to some level of normalcy, and to function at the most basic level.
At the outset patients are advised not to expect too much too soon. This can lead to an unwillingness to continue treatment if the recovery is slow. Since symptoms can vary from person to person, a specific course of treatment must be designed for each patient. Treatment methods include:
Exercise therapy: Many patients have shown improvement with graded exercise therapy. The patient’s physical routine is carefully monitored and noted and special routines are developed. These routines depend on their reactions to different types of activity.
Cognitive behavioral therapy: This seeks to help patients on a mental level by developing coping strategies. This includes various lifestyle changes that also impact recovery in that handling stress or preventing overexertion can make life easier for CFS sufferers.
Combination of drug therapy and alternative therapies: Since no one option works fully, using combination therapy improves results.
Some patients may be prescribed medication to handle some symptoms. The effectiveness of medication is not yet fully known. In fact, some patients are overly sensitive to medication while living with the condition. As such doctors are cautious in prescribing anything for the condition itself.
CFS seems to affect more women than men, although both sexes can be affected. While it is most common in persons over 40, younger people can also be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. It tends to be less common among African Americans and Hispanics.
Studies have shown that there is a very low rate of recovery without treatment. Some statistics put this figure at 5%. Even with treatment, there is not a great deal of hope for recovery. Treatment does however help patients improve their quality of life. Recovery rates are higher in cases where patients follow up with treatment as outlined by their physician. Children also have better rates of recovery than adults. It is believed that in rare cases chronic fatigue syndrome can lead to death. So far no evidence has been provided to prove this.
July 25th, 2009
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