Is your fatigue more than just feeling tired?

CFS is a complex disorder characterised by extreme fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest and can worsen with physical or mental activity.
Image used for representational purposes only
Image used for representational purposes only

CHENNAI: In today’s fast-paced world, fatigue is a common phenomenon experienced by many. Whether it’s due to a busy schedule, travel, illness, or stress, feeling tired is considered normal and usually remedied by rest. However, for some individuals, fatigue may become persistent and debilitating and may affect the quality of their life. One such condition is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.

CFS is a complex disorder characterised by extreme fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest and can worsen with physical or mental activity. Unlike normal fatigue, CFS can persist for months or even years, significantly impacting a person’s quality of life.

Diagnosing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) presents significant challenges. Methods like clinical examination, blood tests and scans often fail to pinpoint the condition. Typically, patients describe their symptoms, but they are often told by healthcare providers to have no illness.

Even in countries with advanced medical technology, CFS remains elusive; and an estimated 90% of cases go undiagnosed. Prevalence ranges from 0.2% to 2.6%, varying across age groups and regions. The condition is more prevalent among individuals aged 30-60, with a notable predominance in women, where the ratio of affected females to males can be as high as 4:1.

Why awareness about CFS is important?

The causes of CFS aren’t fully understood yet. Some findings suggest that it could be due to some dysfunction in the body’s inflammatory response usually following a viral illness. The cases of CFS are noted to have increased especially with the onset of the pandemic, irrespective of age groups. One of the most significant challenges of CFS is the lack of visible symptoms, leading to misunderstandings and scepticism from others, including family and healthcare providers. Patients may be wrongly perceived as lazy or unmotivated, exacerbating their mental health struggles. Therefore, creating a supportive and understanding environment is crucial for their well-being. 

Common symptoms

  • Fatigue: Fatigue is the most important symptom of CFS. It should given attention when it lasts for at least six months and does not improve with rest or if it leads to functional impairment.

  • Post-exertional malaise: Experiencing pain after physical or mental exertion lasting for 24 hours or longer.

  • Sleep disturbances: Unrefreshing sleep, insomnia, or disturbances in the sleep cycle.

  • Cognitive difficulties: Memory loss and difficulty concentrating.

  • Orthostatic intolerance: Feeling dizzy or lightheaded upon standing for prolonged periods.

  • Other symptoms include muscle pain, joint pain, throat pain, feverishness, and painful lymph nodes 

Impact of CFS on Women

While CFS can affect anyone, it disproportionately impacts women. The reasons for this gender disparity are not entirely understood but may involve hormonal factors and differences in immune function. Hormonal changes, such as those experienced during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause, can exacerbate symptoms in women with CFS.

Treatment and Management

Currently, there is no definitive cure for CFS, but various strategies can help manage symptoms Addressing specific symptoms is one method. For example, pain or sleep disturbances could be addressed with medication or therapies.

Mental health challenges associated with CFS could be countered with antidepressants or cognitive-behavioural therapy. In addition to these, maintaining a healthy lifestyle accompanied by a balanced diet, good sleep hygiene, and graded exercise therapies could be effective.

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The New Indian Express