London: A quarter of the population claim to suffer from fatigue. But sometimes extreme tiredness can be hiding a more serious illness. It is easy to blame exhaustion on the stresses of an increasingly demanding lifestyle or work. But if after six months those feelings of exhaustion haven’t gone away then you may have an illness classified by doctors as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
Chronic fatigue syndrome also known as ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) is a potentially disabling neurological disorder. There is no simple diagnostic test, so your GP will need to go through a process of elimination.
Fatigue and Weakness: Are You Tired All the Time?
Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and ME include profound exhaustion, muscle pain, memory loss or concentration, sore throat or enlarged lymph glands, abdominal pain, fever or chills, sensitivity to light, noise, and smell, disturbed sleep patterns, and persistent headaches.
Sufferers often complain of disturbed sleep, but in many cases, a good night’s sleep will not make any difference. When CFS/ME was first outlined as a condition in the 1980s many doctors were skeptical about whether it was a real condition or ‘all in the mind.’
In fact, around 20 percent of sufferers are so severely affected that they are either house or bed-bound and have enormous difficulty performing even basic personal tasks unaided. For most people, however, the illness is less severe. The vast majority of people find that their symptoms fluctuate from day to day.
CFS/ME can last anywhere between a few months and many years. Only 20 percent of sufferers are likely to make a full recovery in two to four years, and around 60 percent of people will improve significantly.
But feeling tired all the time, without anyone being able to tell you why is extremely frustrating and depressing. So what are the possible causes and what can you do about it?
What causes CFS/ME?
It is estimated that around two-thirds of all cases are preceded by a viral infection of some kind. It is also common for many patients to report periods of stress during or before the viral infection took hold. CFS/ME may also be triggered by immunization or traumatic event.
However, there are a great number of sufferers who are unable to give a precise moment when the illness began and recall feeling increasingly worse over a long period of time.
In her book ME, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A Practical Guide, Dr. Anne Macintyre claims the illness can also be inherited or caused by contact with neurotoxins such as organophosphates.