Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is disabling fatigue lasting more than six months that reduces activity by more than half. CFS is a poorly understood disease involving many body systems. No single cause of CFS has been identified, therefore, it is diagnosed by symptoms and by ruling out other known causes of fatigue by a doctor.
Suggested causes include chronic viral infections, food allergy, adrenal gland dysfunction, and many others. None of these have been convincingly documented in more than a minority of sufferers. In some people there is also difficulty sleeping, swollen lymph nodes, and/or mild fever. When there is muscle soreness, fibromyalgia may be the actual problem. Although CFS is considered a modern diagnosis, it may have existed for centuries under other names, such as “the vapours,” neurasthenia, “effort syndrome” (diagnosed in World War I veterans), hypoglycaemia, and chronic mononucleosis.
In addition to fatigue, there may also be muscle pain, joint pain not associated with redness or swelling, short-term memory loss, and an inability to concentrate. Some people with chronic fatigue syndrome also experience difficulty sleeping, swollen lymph nodes, and/or mild fever.
Exercise is important to prevent the worsening of fatigue. Many people report feeling better after undertaking a moderate exercise plan.1, 2 However, most people with CFS are sensitive to overexertion, and excessive exercise may lead to consistently worsening fatigue and mental functioning.3, 4, 5 Exercise should be attempted gradually, starting with very small efforts. One small study found that intermittent exercise, in which patients walked for three minutes followed by three minutes of rest for a total of 30 minutes, did not exacerbate their CFS symptoms.6
Highly stressful situations should be avoided by people with CFS. Coping mechanisms for dealing with stress can sometimes be maximised by behavioural therapy, which has been shown helpful for people with CFS in a few controlled studies.7
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2014.