Know the signs of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

by Debbie Linder

The Free Press

Have you ever been so tired that you weren’t sure you would be able to get out of bed again? No matter how much sleep you get and how much caffeine you drink, you just can’t get moving?

I’m sure we all have found ourselves in situations that have left us feeling that way. However, for an estimated 900,000 to 2.5 million people, this feeling is part of their daily lives.

These folks deal with a disabling and overwhelming fatigue that does not improve with rest. Medical scientists call this illness Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), but it is more commonly referred to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

Patients with ME/CFS experience an overwhelming feeling of tiredness that causes them to be unable to perform their daily tasks. These tasks could be as simple as taking a shower, or making the bed, or even just getting up in the morning.

One in four patients are bedridden for many days during a severe flare-up. Those people who are disabled by ME/CFS have difficulty keeping a job, attending school, or participating in social and family activities.

While anyone can develop ME/CFS, the most common group of Americans are adult white women between the ages 40-60. Unfortunately, only 10 percent of the population have been diagnosed. The reason for so few diagnoses is because patients do not look sick with this illness. Yes, they may appear tired and run down but overall, they look healthy.

For many years, doctors and the general public thought that those suffering from ME/CFS were imaging their symptoms because many of the them could be explained away by other things. Over the past decade, the medical community has begun to recognize ME/CFS for the illness that it is.

The cause of this illness is unknown, but it has been found to be potentially linked to viral infections, psychological stress, and/or a combination of triggers.

It is possible that some people are born with a predisposition for the disorder. Since doctors have yet to discover a cause, there is no definitive lab test to identify this illness.

So how do doctors diagnose ME/CFS? The diagnoses are based on medical history, symptoms and ruling out other diseases.

According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, there are five main symptoms associated with ME/CFS that doctors try to identify: first, you feel so tired that you are unable to function; second, your fatigue worsens after physical exercise, mental exertion and emotional stress, and does not improve with rest; third, you experience difficulty sleeping; fourth, you become forgetful; fifth, you experience episodes of lightheadedness and dizziness when you change position from standing to sitting and vice versa.

Although not part of the main five, many ME/CFS patients experience deep muscle and joint pain and often their skin feels sore when just touched.

Treatment of ME/CFS requires managing the symptoms. Since everyone is different, one treatment may work well for one person but not so much for another. Therefore, treatment is very individualized. Only you and your doctor can decide what works best for you.

Debbie Linder is the school nurse for USD 481 Rural Vista (Hope, White City and Woodbine).