What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is an abnormal and complicated disorder. The primary symptom is extreme and intense fatigue. Unlike the type of tiredness that someone experiences after a regular day of work or exercise, CFS fatigue neither improves nor subsides when the patient rests. Mental or physical activities that task the body enhance the disorder. Chronic fatigue syndrome is also called systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID) or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) (x).
Currently, there is no scientifically proven cause of CFS. However, there is a wide range of theories based on several case studies that test a variety of possible contributing factors, from physiological stress to viral infections. There isn’t a test available to accurately diagnose the condition and the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome mainly focuses on relieving the symptoms. There are no antibiotics available to cure the disorder, but there are several means to manage it (x).
Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
The symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome tend to be the primary determinant of whether an individual has CFS or not. Studying the symptoms of CFS sufferers helps medical personnel determine and eliminate other causes. Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome include:
Patients who begin to experience extreme exhaustion after doing simple tasks might be a sign of chronic fatigue syndrome if the behavior occurs for at least six months. This type of fatigue is one that the patient cannot get rid of with sleep. However, fatigue can also be a symptom of other conditions, so it is essential to visit a doctor to determine the cause (x).
There are several illnesses that cause headaches, but they can often result from chronic fatigue syndrome. It is an extremely common condition that almost half of all adults in the world suffer from (x). Studies show that patients with CFS often complain of headaches, although research has not concluded exactly why this happens (x, x).
Muscle and Joint Pain
Another symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome is unexplained muscle and joint pain. These are also symptoms of arthritis. However, sudden and inexplicable pain in the muscles and joints in patients who do not suffer from arthritis may be a significant sign of chronic fatigue syndrome. Unlike arthritis, CFS does not cause the joints to swell. The pain may be intense or subtle, but it is persistent (x).
There are other possible symptoms to look out for that may indicate chronic fatigue syndrome. Most of these conditions may result from other conditions, which is why it is important to get confirmation from a medical professional (x, x).
- Memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sore throat
- Malaise after exertion
- Weak muscles
- Sleep disturbances
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Extreme exhaustion for more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise
Risk Factors for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
People who experience chronic fatigue syndrome usually end up exhausted after simple tasks or minimal exercise. There is still no explanation for why this occurs in certain people. But there are several risk factors. Research shows that some people may be born with a natural predisposition for the disorder. But the trait requires a trigger to activate the condition. There are a combination of individual factors that may increase the risk of CFS.
Some people develop chronic fatigue syndrome if they contract certain viral infections, such as the human herpes virus, Virus 6, the Epstein-Barr virus, Q fever, viral meningitis and mouse leukemia viruses. However, there is no concrete evidence that implicates these viruses as the actual trigger. The nature of chronic fatigue syndrome is heterogeneous and it makes it difficult to distinguish cause from effect (x).
People who experience chronic fatigue syndrome may also experience irregular hormone levels in the blood. This includes hormones that are produced in the pituitary gland, the adrenal gland and the hypothalamus. Researchers at the University Medical Center Groningen discovered that CFS patients had lower serum levels of two essential thyroid hormones. Specifically, the patients had less triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). These patients did, however, show normal levels of a thyroid-stimulating hormone that is usually present at higher levels in hypothyroidism. This condition also displays low thyroid hormone production. Hormonal imbalance remains one phenomenon that generally occurs periodically in CFS patients (x).
Stress is a significant factor that can intensify fatigue or contribute to the development of chronic fatigue syndrome. It causes either physical or emotional tension that stems from situations that induce anger, nervousness or frustration. It can result in exhaustion for those predisposed to chronic fatigue syndrome (x).
Immune System Function
Studies suggest that immune system function may correlate with chronic fatigue syndrome, since viral infections can trigger the disorder. There are some similarities between CFS and autoimmune disorders—such as lupus—which trigger the immune system to attack healthy cells by mistake and cause damage in the body. Research states that CFS patients have high levels of cytokines, which use immune cells to regulate their behavior. These irregularities may cause fatigue or muscle aches (x).
People with chronic fatigue syndrome also tend to have low-functioning natural killer (NK) cells, which are immune system cells that help combat infection. If a patient does not have enough of these cells, it can compromise the immune system. The rate at which cells function is directly proportional to the severity of the CFS (x).
Viruses may also cause chronic fatigue syndrome, such as the bacteria Chlamydia pneumoniae that causes pneumonia. CFS also usually presents itself after a flu-like condition and those with more symptoms may experience a more severe case of CFS (x, x).
Researchers believe that CFS occurs more regularly in certain families than others and some patients are more likely to experience it because of their genetic makeup. Some studies suggest that the genes in the sympathetic nervous system may play a role, as well as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which controls sleep, stress responses and depression. CFS patients may have genetic abnormalities that impact the way these cells function and communicate (x).
Treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Although there is no cure for this condition, treatment aims to manage it and the symptoms it causes. First, a doctor determines which symptoms interfere with the patient’s life the most and tries to address them. Sometimes counseling is helpful because it aims to help the patient change their thoughts and behavioral patterns to reduce psychological symptoms. Antidepressants or sleep aids may help in severe cases. However, patients may also manage their fatigue naturally by following a consistent bedtime routine or removing electronics from their bedrooms to disassociate it from activities other than sleep (x).
Supplements for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Certain supplements may also help manage chronic fatigue syndrome and regulate sleep patterns. However, they are not the same as medical treatment. Consult a doctor before starting a supplement regimen. Supplements that may help manage CFS include:
According to research, people living with chronic fatigue syndrome have low levels of magnesium in the red blood cells. Studies found that CFS patients who were treated with magnesium experienced higher energy levels, an improved emotional state and less pain. These results suggest that magnesium may play a role in CFS management (x). As a dietary supplement, take 1,300 mg (½ tsp) of magnesium gluconate per day, unless a doctor recommends a different dosage.
Studies tested the effects of low dosages of potassium arsenite on CFS sufferers with micrococci-like organisms in their blood. Those who took it experienced remission and the micrococci disappeared from the blood (x). The recommended dosage for potassium citrate powder is 275 mg per day or following a doctor’s instructions.
One of the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome is the inability to sleep. The pineal hormone melatonin is an essential factor in the circadian rhythm regulation and therefore affects sleep patterns. Melatonin levels begin to increase as the day turns to night and then decrease in the second half of the night. The environmental light-dark cycle basis is essential for synchronizing circadian rhythms. Melatonin insufficiency may be a risk factor for sleep disorders in CFS patients. Based on this information, researchers think CFS patients may be able to use melatonin to reduce sleep irregularities (x). As a supplement, take 1 to 3 mg of melatonin powder before bedtime. Consult a doctor before taking the supplement and follow their dosage instructions.
Studies show that valerian root is a potential treatment for sleep disorders—insomnia, for example—that may develop as a result of the syndrome. Researchers estimate that 30 to 40 percent of adults have trouble sleeping. Valerian root may be an effective method to manage sleep disorders and improve sleep quality (x). Take 300 to 600 mg of valerian root extract powder at least two hours before bedtime, unless a physician advises against it.
Found naturally in meat, fish, eggs and dairy products, Vitamin B12 is popular for its energy-boosting effects. It helps promote healthy nerve cells and can also convert carbohydrates into energy. Studies show that it may help improve disorders that affect sleep-wake rhythm (x). The recommended dosage for Vitamin B12 powder is 100 to 200 mg a day unless a doctor recommends a different dosage.
The Bottom Line
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is an abnormal and complicated disorder that causes extreme and intense fatigue. Other symptoms include headaches, muscle and joint pain, memory loss and disrupted sleep patterns. Researchers hypothesize that some people are more prone to developing CFS because they inherit the trait genetically. When the patient comes in contact with risk factors for the condition, they can activate the trait. For example, some risk factors include viral infections, hormonal imbalances, stress and immune system function.
While there is no cure for CFS, there are ways to help manage the condition, including counseling, antidepressants, sleep aids and following a consistent sleep routine. Supplements may also help regulate sleep patterns and reduce the symptoms that chronic fatigue syndrome can cause. Always consult a doctor before taking supplements.