Chronic Fatigue more than just tiredness

Dr Michelle Cooper

Published 12/05/2015 | 00:00

Dr Michelle Cooper officially opens her new practice in Ashe street Tralee on Friday. Photo Eye Focus
Dr Michelle Cooper officially opens her new practice in Ashe street Tralee on Friday. Photo Eye Focus

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) is a condition that causes long-term disabling tiredness.

Most people with CFS/ME also have other symptoms such as muscular pain, joint pain, disturbed sleep, poor concentration or headaches.

WHAT CAUSES CFS/ME?

Factors that are thought to contribute to some people developing CFS/ME include:

l Inherited genetic susceptibility

l Viral infections such as glandular fever

l Exhaustion and mental stress

l Depression

l A traumatic event such as bereavement, divorce or redundancy.

The following factors are thought to make CFS/ME worse:

l Recurring viral illness

l Not being active

l Stress

l Poor diet

l Being social isolated

l Environmental pollution

It is hoped that research will clarify the cause of CFS/ME in the future.

DIAGNOSIS

There is no test that proves that you have CFS/ME. A doctor will usually diagnose CFS/ME based upon your symptoms alone. Some tests are usually done to rule out other causes of your tiredness (fatigue) or other symptoms. For example, blood tests may be done to rule out anaemia or underactive thyroid gland as well as liver and kidney problems. All these tests are normal in people with CFS/ME.

SYMPTOMS

The onset of symptoms, which can be divided into mild, moderate or severe, can be fairly sudden (over a few days or so) or more gradual. The medical definition of CFS/ME states that symptoms should have lasted for at least four months in adults and three months in children and young adults.

The most common and main symptom of CFS/ME is fatigue of new onset. It is often felt to be both physical and mental and is said to be overwhelming or to be like no other type of fatigue. For example:

The fatigue experienced by patients is often made worse by activity and is referred to as post-exertional malaise. Other symptoms include:

l Mental difficulties such as poor concentration, poor short term memory, reduced attention span, poor memory for recent events, difficulty planning or organising your thoughts, difficulty finding the right words to say and sometimes feeling disoriented.

l Sleeping difficulties such as early waking, difficulty going to sleep, too much sleep or disrupted sleep patterns.

l Muscular and joint pain as well as headaches.

l Recurring sore throat often with tenderness of the nearby lymph glands

TREATMENT

There is no known cure for CFS/ME, although treatment may help ease symptoms. Painkillers may help to alleviate muscle and joint pain, whereas eating little and often may help any feeling of sickness. Depression can occur in people with CFS/ME and if it occurs antidepressants may be prescribed. Relaxation can help to relieve pain, sleep problems and any stress or anxiety. A well balanced diet is very important and eating small, regular meals which contain some starchy food is often beneficial.

One or more of the following may be recommended to patients suffering with CFS/ME:

l Graded exercise therapy (GET). This is a gradual, progressive increase in exercise, such as walking or swimming. The level recommended will depend upon your symptoms and current level of activity.

l Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This is based on the idea that certain ways of thinking can fuel certain health problems. Behavioural therapy aims to change any behaviours that are harmful or not helpful. This therapy is one of the most effective treatments for CFS/ME. The core components of CBT would normally include: Energy/activity management; establishment of a sleep routine; goal setting; and psychological support.

PROGNOSIS

In most cases the condition has a fluctuating course. Most people with CFS/ME will show some improvement over time, especially with treatment. Some people recover in less than two years, while others remain ill for many years.

For support and further information please visit the Irish ME trust's website at www.imet.ie

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