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Beyond Tired: everything you need to know about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

What does chronic fatigue syndrome feel like?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) describes a complex and debilitating condition characterised by persistent fatigue that is not alleviated by rest and significantly impacts daily functioning. Individuals affected by CFS often report a range of symptoms beyond fatigue, including:

1. Profound Exhaustion: The fatigue experienced in CFS is often described as overwhelming and unrelenting, leaving individuals feeling physically and mentally drained regardless of rest or sleep.

2. Post-Exertional Malaise: Activities that would typically be manageable can exacerbate symptoms, leading to a worsening of fatigue, muscle pain, cognitive difficulties, and other symptoms that can persist for days or even weeks after exertion.

3. Cognitive Dysfunction: often referred to as "brain fog," this state can express itself as problems with memory, concentration, word retrieval, and processing information, which can significantly impair daily functioning and productivity.

4. Muscle and Joint Pain: it is not uncommon to have chronic pain, including muscle aches and joint pain. It can widespread across body or stay local and may fluctuate in intensity over time.

5. Sleep Disturbances: despite feeling constantly fatigued, and really needing a good sleep, individuals with CFS often experience disrupted sleep patterns, including difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up feeling unrefreshed.

6. Flu-Like Symptoms: Some individuals with CFS report symptoms resembling those of a viral illness, such as sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, and low-grade fever, which may come and go or persist over time.

7. Autonomic Dysfunction: CFS is also correlated with autonomic nervous system, with symptoms like dizziness, lightheadedness, orthostatic intolerance (difficulty standing up), and irregular heart rate or blood pressure.

8. Mood Disturbances: Depression, anxiety, irritability, and mood swings are common in individuals with CFS, often as a result of the chronic and debilitating nature of the condition and its impact on daily life.

It's important to note that the symptoms of CFS can vary widely among individuals and may fluctuate in severity over time. Additionally, the experience of living with CFS can be frustrating, isolating, and challenging, as the condition is poorly understood, and there is currently no cure.

How do you fix chronic fatigue?

Currently, there is no cure for CFS. What you will hear from your doctor is to try out several strategies that may help manage symptoms and improve overall well-being:

More medical appointments and consultations: You will hear that a thorough medical evaluation can help rule out other potential causes of fatigue and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Try medications for managing symptoms like pain, depression and sleep

Learn to manage energy levels by pacing activities and balancing rest with activity. Avoid overexertion or pushing through fatigue, as this can exacerbate symptoms. Break tasks into smaller, manageable steps, and prioritize activities based on energy levels and priorities.

Establish healthy sleep habits and routines to promote restful sleep and improve sleep quality.

Develop coping strategies to manage stress and minimise its impact on symptoms.

Eat a balanced diet rich in nutritious foods to support overall health and energy levels. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

Engage in gentle, low-impact exercises

Seek support from family, friends, support groups, or online communities

Keep track of symptoms, triggers, and changes in health over time. Adjust treatment strategies to optimise symptom management and overall well-being.

Now I am not a doctor, I'm a therapist. Time and time again I've seen the power of the mind-body-soul connection. I work with people supporting them to heal chronic illnesses. What makes sense to me is a personalised approach where you work with a qualified therapist to find the underlying root cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, relevant to your specific circumstances and build your recovery plan starting with removing the cause of the illness first. Then look at enhancing your recovery path with anti-inflammatory foods, connection with nature and re-discovering what makes you happy.

What is the difference between chronic fatigue and being tired?

The difference between chronic fatigue and simply feeling tired lies in the duration, severity, and underlying causes of the fatigue.

1. Duration: Tiredness is typically temporary and can be relieved by rest or sleep. It is a normal response to physical or mental exertion and usually resolves within a relatively short period, such as a few hours or days. In contrast, chronic fatigue is persistent and unrelenting, lasting for six months or longer despite adequate rest and not significantly improving with sleep or relaxation.

2. Severity: While feeling tired may cause temporary discomfort or mild impairment in daily functioning, chronic fatigue can be debilitating and significantly impact an individual's ability to perform daily activities, work, socialise, and engage in hobbies or interests. Chronic fatigue may be accompanied by a range of other symptoms, such as muscle and joint pain, cognitive difficulties, and sleep disturbances, which contribute to its severity.

3. Underlying Causes: Tiredness is often a normal response to physical exertion, lack of sleep, stress, illness, or emotional strain. Once the underlying cause is addressed, tiredness typically resolves on its own. In contrast, chronic fatigue is long-lasting, and doesn’t ease off after rest and/or reduction of the cause.

Overall, while feeling tired occasionally is a normal part of life, chronic fatigue is a persistent and debilitating symptom that warrants further investigation. It's essential to listen to your body, prioritise self-care, and seek advice if fatigue becomes chronic, severe, or significantly impacts your quality of life.

Does chronic fatigue ever go away?

For some individuals with CFS, symptoms may fluctuate in severity, with periods of relative improvement or remission followed by flare-ups or relapses.

Factors such as rest, pacing activities, stress management, lifestyle modifications, and medical interventions may contribute to symptom management and overall well-being but currently, the mainstream medical system offers no cure for chronic fatigue syndrome.

Ongoing research is being conducted to better understand the underlying mechanisms of CFS and to develop more effective treatments. There is still much to learn about the condition, including its causes, risk factors, and optimal management strategies.

What is the root cause of chronic fatigue?

The root cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is not fully understood. The conventional medical system considers various potential contributing factors:

Viral Infections: Some researchers have suggested that viral infections, such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and other pathogens, may trigger or contribute to the development of CFS.

Immune Dysfunction: Dysfunction of the immune system has been implicated in the pathogenesis of CFS, including abnormalities in immune function, inflammation, and cytokine signaling. These immune disturbances may contribute to the chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, and dysregulation of immune responses observed in individuals with CFS.

Neuroendocrine Dysregulation: Dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and other neuroendocrine pathways has been observed in some individuals with CFS. This may result in abnormalities in cortisol levels, sleep-wake cycles, and stress responses, contributing to fatigue, sleep disturbances, and other symptoms of CFS.

Mitochondrial Dysfunction: Dysfunction of mitochondria, the cellular structures responsible for energy production, has been proposed as a potential mechanism underlying the fatigue and metabolic abnormalities observed in CFS. Mitochondrial dysfunction may impair cellular energy metabolism, leading to fatigue, muscle pain, and other symptoms of CFS.

Psychosocial Factors: Including stress, trauma, psychological distress, and maladaptive coping strategies, may contribute to the development and perpetuation of CFS symptoms. Chronic stress and emotional upheaval can impact immune function, neuroendocrine regulation, and other physiological processes implicated in CFS.

When it comes to tackling those causes, it's of crucial importance to take holistic perspective and include the mind-body-spirit connection and how our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions can influence our biology and overall health. Our beliefs and perceptions can impact our cellular biology. Epigenetics explains how environmental factors, including thoughts, emotions, and lifestyle choices, can modify gene expression without changing the underlying DNA sequence. Negative beliefs, trauma, and prolonged stress can contribute to the development of chronic diseases by altering gene expression and disrupting cellular function. We therefore recommend a short-term therapy intervention where we can tap into the body's natural powers and change the body systems from within.

What is the best medication for chronic fatigue?

Currently, there is no specific medication approved for the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) in the UK or elsewhere. Treatment for CFS typically focuses on symptom management.

Doctors may recommend these:

Pain Relief: Over-the-counter or prescription pain medications may be used to alleviate muscle and joint pain associated with CFS.

Sleep Aids: Sleep medications or supplements, such as melatonin or certain antidepressants.

Antidepressants: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), may be prescribed to manage symptoms of depression, anxiety, or sleep disturbances commonly associated with CFS. However, these come with long side effect lists that include insomnia, fatigue, headaches, agitation, restlessness, and suicide thoughts. SSRIs are also very tricky to come off.

Stimulants: In some cases, healthcare providers may prescribe stimulant medications, such as methylphenidate or modafinil, to help alleviate fatigue and improve energy levels in individuals with severe fatigue and impaired functioning. However, the use of stimulant medications for CFS is controversial and may not be suitable or effective for all individuals.

Medical treatment plan for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome poses a lot of questions and is limited to treating symptoms which doesn't solve the problem. I strongly recommend trying a non-pharmacological approaches, such as a bespoke therapy with Aya, along with connection with nature and looking into anti-inflammatory food and detox. For more information and to book your free consultation please contact Aya here.

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