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What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Lady tired from chronic fatigue syndrome

There are many opinions about chronic fatigue syndrome and very few concrete answers, although, over the last few years many strides have been made to prove that chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) exists and is not merely a figment of a patient's imagination.

While the name 'fatigue syndrome' gives the impression of a generic lack of energy that many of us feel on a weekly basis that this syndrome often creates sneers in some individuals.  Make no mistake, that while general fatigue is common in all of us, CFS has unique symptoms that force separation from simple general "fatigue".

The clinical symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome can be summed up as follows:

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is Prolonged and Disabling Fatigue

This is the hallmark symptom of CFS. Small tasks, once taken for granted, can cause exacerbation of symptoms for days or weeks. Since the price for activity is often paid after the event, many people with CFS have a difficult time avoiding relapses. Most people with CFS must slowly learn to pace their activity.

Exercise and activity may temporarily worsen the symptoms of CFS. These symptoms are:

  1. Flu-like symptoms - Swollen lymph nodes and flu-like muscle aches are common in CFS. Many people with CFS report that their illness began with an acute viral infection.
  2. Neurological Dysfunction - Neurological symptoms will vary from person to person. Some of the more prominent neurological symptoms are diminished mental clarity, extreme mental fatigue, insomnia, and chronic migraines. Digestive problems and tachycardia (rapid heart rate, especially upon sitting or standing) are also common. 
  3. Orthostatic Intolerance - Sitting or standing is something most people take for granted. For many who suffer from CFS, remaining stationary and upright can be very uncomfortable. After sitting or standing, pain in the legs and diminished mental clarity are common. Many theories abound as to what causes orthostatic intolerance in people with CFS. Neurological dysfunction, cardiomyopathy, and hypovolemia (low blood volume) have each been suggested as possible culprits.