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Chronic fatigue syndrome can be exhausting

by KATHY HUBBARD / Contributing Writer
| June 28, 2023 1:00 AM

“I went from a young, vivacious professional with a bustling, busy social life, who ran three miles per day, took trips, learned hobbies, made friends and felt on top of the world, to someone who is still technically ‘young,’ but barely has enough energy to get out of bed, has to sit for breaks whilst making her morning coffee, and can barely do more than go to work three times per week and do the laundry.”

That very long, run-on sentence was written by a thirty-year-old woman on The Mighty, an online support group for people suffering from various illnesses, with this one being about chronic fatigue syndrome.

We all have low-energy days when we don’t want to or feel like we can’t do our regular activities. So, what’s the difference between being tired or drowsy and being fatigued? The simple explanation is that fatigue will interrupt your day-to-day activities and isn’t relieved by getting a lot of sleep. Medline describes fatigue as a lack of energy and motivation.

“Drowsiness and apathy (a feeling of not caring about what happens) can be symptoms that go along with fatigue. Fatigue can be a normal and important response to physical activity, emotional stress, boredom, or lack of sleep,” they say.

For the most part, feeling fatigued isn’t due to a serious disease, but there’s a “but” in this sentence because it can be a sign of a more serious mental or physical condition. It can be a sign of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).

“When fatigue is not relieved by enough sleep, good nutrition, or a low-stress environment, it should be evaluated by your healthcare provider,” Medline says.

“ME/CFS is a serious, long-term illness that affects many body systems,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us. “People with ME/CFS are often not able to do their usual activities. At times, ME/CFS may confine them to bed.”

Mayo says that symptoms may vary from one patient to another and that symptoms will fluctuate in severity from day to day. Symptoms include extreme exhaustion after physical or mental exercise; problems with memory or thinking skills; dizziness that worsens with moving from lying down or sitting to standing; muscle or joint pain; and unrefreshing sleep.

“Some people with this condition have headaches, sore throats, and tender lymph nodes in the neck or armpits. People with the condition also may become extra sensitive to light, sound, smells, food and medicines,” Mayo explains.

Johns Hopkins Medicine says that the symptoms often mimic the flu. They say that people may experience a low-grade fever as well as depression, confusion, forgetfulness and insomnia.

The CDC says the ME/CFS can make it hard to keep a job, go to school, or take part in social activities. The disease can last for years and sometimes leads to serious disability, including the patient becoming bedridden.

It’s most common in people ages forty to sixty, but children, adolescents and adults of all ages can be affected. Adult women are diagnosed more frequently than men and white persons are diagnosed more than other races and ethnicities. And then, of course, many go undiagnosed, like up to 90 percent of those with ME/CFS, according to the CDC.

“Researchers have not yet found what causes ME/CFS, and there are no specific laboratory tests to diagnose ME/CFS directly. Therefore, doctors need to consider the diagnosis of ME/CFS based on in-depth evaluation of a person’s symptoms and medical history. It is also important that doctors diagnose and treat any other condition that can cause similar symptoms,” the CDC says.

Despite there being no cure, many of the symptoms can be treated or managed. Johns Hopkins says that treatment is determined by your healthcare provider based on your overall health and medical history and the extent of your condition and tolerance for specific medicines, procedures and therapies.

“Treatment may include: medicine, including corticosteroids, antidepressants, and others; light-intensity aerobic exercise (but avoid moderate to vigorously intense physical activity); dietary supplements and herbal preparations; and psychotherapy and supportive counseling,” Johns Hopkins says.

If you have any chronic fatigue symptoms and they’ve persisted for six months or more, it’s time to see your healthcare provider. Don’t be a ninety-percenter.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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Kathy Hubbard