More than 1 million Americans live with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). CFS is a debilitating disorder characterized by extreme fatigue or tiredness that doesn’t go away with rest, no matter how much the individual gets, and can’t be explained by an underlying medical condition.
To make matters worse, the causes of CFS aren’t well-understood. Different theories as to why the condition develops in some people include a viral infection, psychological stress, and/or a combination of factors. CFS is also incredibly difficult to diagnose because many other illnesses produce similar symptoms. There are currently no tests for CFS, so a doctor has to rule out a laundry list of other causes which may be causing the fatigue.
In years past, CFS was a diagnosis that came with some controversy, but now it is widely accepted as a real medical condition.
What Causes CFS?
As just mentioned, the cause(s) of CFS is unknown, though researchers now speculate that hypotension (unusually low blood pressure), viruses, hormonal imbalances, and a weakened immune system may all be contributing factors. It is also possible that some people are genetically predisposed to developing CFS. CFS is known to develop after an individual has battled an infection, though no single type of infection has been found to cause CFS.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have suggested that CFS may be the end stage of multiple different conditions, rather than one unique condition. For example, 10% to 12% of individuals with Epstein-Barr virus, Ross River Virus, and Coxiella burnetti develop a condition that fits all of the criteria for a CFS diagnosis.
Though anyone can be diagnosed with the condition, CFS is most common among people in their 40s and 50s. Gender also plays a big role in developing CFS, as women patients outnumber men by a nearly 2 to 1 ratio. Other factors that may increase a person’s risk are genetic predisposition, stress, allergies, and environmental factors.
Symptoms of CFS
Symptoms of CFS can vary from person to person. Obviously the biggest and most common symptom is fatigue that is severe enough that it interferes with a person’s daily activities. For a diagnosis of CFS, the fatigue must last for at least 6 months and may not be cured with bed rest, and the person must have at least four other symptoms as well.
Other symptoms of CFS may include:
- loss of memory or concentration
- feeling unrefreshed after a night’s sleep
- chronic insomnia (and other sleep disorders)
- muscle pain
- frequent headaches
- multijoint pain without redness or swelling
- frequent sore throat
- tender lymph nodes in your neck and armpits
Individuals may also experience illness or extreme fatigue after physical or mental activities. This can last for more than 24 hours after the activity. Some people find they are affected by CFS in cycles, meaning they have periods where they feel worse and then they feel better again. Sometimes symptoms may even completely disappear (remission), however it’s still possible for them to come back. These cycles of remission and relapse make it difficult for many people to manage their symptoms.
How Is CFS Treated?
Since each individual person afflicted with CFS has different symptoms, there is no one cure for the condition. Having said that there are traditional as well as alternative treatments that may help sufferers of CFS.
Because we always champion natural treatments for disease and ailments (why pop pills if you don’t have to?), let’s take a look at some of the most common and effective ones for CFS.
Making some changes to your lifestyle can help reduce your symptoms. CFS is characterized by an intense fatigue, so it goes without saying that trying to get enough restful sleep each night is the first course of action.
There are many reasons people don’t get enough proper rest each night and experience insomnia. Limiting or eliminating caffeine from your diet can help. If you feel you need coffee every morning to help you feel energetic, be sure to not consume any after the hour of 4PM so it will not disrupt your sleep cycle.
You should also limit your alcohol consumption, as too much, especially before bed, can interfere with your sleep pattern. And finally, aim to go to bed and wake up at the same times every night and morning to help establish a natural sleep pattern.
[Editor’s note: Many of our readers with a history of trouble falling asleep have told us they’ve had wild success relaxing and drifting off to a full night of rest by using Sonic Wave Relaxation Therapy. Learn how Sonic Wave Relaxation Therapy can help you get a good night’s rest.]
There are two types of therapy that have proven to be beneficial to people suffering with CFS. The first is psychological therapy to help you cope with the depression that often occurs with people who feel completely out of control of their health.
The second is physical therapy. A physical therapist can evaluate you and create an exercise routine for you that gradually increases in intensity and duration of the exercises. This is known as graded exercise therapy, or GET. In one randomized, controlled study, those participants undergoing GET reported significantly less fatigue than people in the control group, who received standard medical care.
Alternative treatments such as tai chi, yoga, massage and acupuncture have been shown to relieve the pain associated with CFS. Always talk to your doctor before beginning any alternative or complementary treatments.
Ribose is a crucial component in the energy-creation process within your cells. You can take Ribose as a supplement (it is often called D-ribose). One study showed that taking D-ribose significantly reduced symptoms — specifically sleep problems, mental fogginess, and pain — in people who had both CFS and fibromyalgia. Typically, you start with 5 grams of ribose twice daily.
Almost 50% of the American population has been found to be vitamin D deficient, which can lead to a host of physical ailments and symptoms. While researchers continue to debate the exact role of vitamin D in relation to CFS, what is certain is that sufferers of CFS who are deficient in vitamin D typically notice some pain relief after supplementation. The general consensus is that most people should aim to get between 1,000 and 4,000 international units per day.
You should check with your doctor before beginning supplementation of ribose or vitamin D.
Living with chronic fatigue syndrome can be challenging and frustrating. But, there is hope. These natural treatments can do much to bring about relief and a better quality of life.