Like far too many pain conditions, chronic fatigue syndrome has no discernable cause and remains a medical mystery. For this reason it can be difficult to treat. It is characterized by extreme fatigue that is unexplainable by any known medical cause. It also doesn’t improve with rest as would be expected.

To try to get a better understanding of chronic fatigue syndrome we’ve taken a look at several posts across the Pain Doctor family of blogs and other reputable resources to develop the top ten facts about the condition.

1. Statistics

It is difficult to have exact numbers regarding chronic fatigue syndrome due to the fact that it can easily go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. From the Nevada Pain blog:

“There is also some debate about the official numbers of chronic fatigue syndrome patients in the U.S. It is believed to be anywhere between one and four million people suffer from the condition, including individuals who have gone undiagnosed.”

2. History

From the same blog post:

“The disorder was first named in the 1980s and at the time it was more common among men.  Today, women receive the diagnosis much more frequently than men in general.”

It is interesting to note that there has been a shift in the rates of diagnoses between the genders. In men it was frequently viewed as a result of working too hard while among women it was seen as a sign of emotional weakness. Thankfully, there have been changes in the way the medical community treats, diagnoses, and understands the condition.

3. Research

In September of last year we explored some of the most recent research into the condition on this blog. In several studies it was determined that brain imaging could unlock some of the clues about chronic fatigue syndrome. We noted:

“A study using brain imaging showed that patients with chronic fatigue syndrome appear to have reduced responses in the basal ganglia, a region of the brain connected with fatigue. The findings were compared with health control subjects to determine the correlation. This suggests that CFS may be associated with change in the brain that involves the brain circuits that regulate motor activity as well as motivation.”

4. Causes

While we don’t know exactly what causes chronic fatigue syndrome there are a variety of theories that can help shed some light on the condition. Most scientists believe that individuals have a predisposition for developing the condition but it can also result after a prolonged viral infection, issues with the immune system, or hormonal changes.

5. Risks

Because we don’t know the exact causes, determining the overall risk factors can also be a challenge. It is currently believed that the three biggest risk factors are age, gender, and stress levels. While chronic fatigue syndrome can occur at any age it is far more commonly found in people between the ages of 40 and 60. It is also more common in women but doctors also theorize that it is more likely to be discussed by women so many men may go undiagnosed. An inability to manage stress levels may also contribute to the development of the condition.

6. Treatments

Chronic fatigue syndrome has different effects on different patients. Developing a customized treatment plan is the only successful option for most people living with the condition. There are a variety of treatments that can be used. The most common medications that are prescribed, along with other therapies and lifestyle changes, are antidepressants and sleep aids.

7. Therapy

Among the therapies used to help with the condition a combination of exercise and counseling is the most effective. A physical therapist can help patients determine the best exercises and routines to help alleviate the physical pain and exhaustion. However, the condition does affect the mental health of patients as well so having a professional to talk to about concerns is essential.

8. Lifestyle changes

There are also many things patients can do at home to help alleviate the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome and live a more normal life. Learning ways to reduce stress is essential as stress is known to exacerbate issues with the condition. Getting better sleep can also help. While one of the hallmarks of the condition is excessive tiredness, good nighttime sleep patterns and routines can help patients function better during waking hours. It is also critical for patients to know how to pace themselves when it comes to physical activity and not push too hard on days when they’re feeling well.

9. Complications

The primary complications of chronic fatigue syndrome come from the overall lethargy that the condition causes. Many patients struggle with depression, keep themselves socially isolated, and miss work due to the pain and exhaustion. The condition can feel imposing when it causes people to avoid the things in life they love the most. This is why treating the condition with a combination of physical and emotional therapy is important.

10. Support

One way to help avoid social isolation and improve overall mental wellbeing is to seek out the company of a support group. Everyone who faces chronic fatigue syndrome will have a different experience but it is helpful to have people you can talk to who understand what you’re going through. Check in your community as well as online forums to find the right group of people for you.

For more details on chronic fatigue syndrome you can review the Mayo Clinic profile on the condition.

Do you live with chronic fatigue syndrome? What has helped you the most?

Image by Alex via Flickr

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