It’s normal to feel tired sometimes. With everyday obligations around work, home life, and personal wellness practices, it’s no wonder that many teenagers and adults feel as though they’re exhausted more often than not. That said, there is a difference between feeling tired because of a hectic schedule and feeling tired for seemingly no reason. Chronic tiredness or fatigue is often downplayed or dismissed as a symptom of today’s modern world. But for many people, there is something deeper underneath the surface causing those excessive feelings of fatigue. One such example of this is chronic fatigue syndrome. But what exactly is this condition, and how do you identify chronic fatigue syndrome? Let’s investigate.
What is chronic fatigue syndrome?
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating fatigue that does not go away. You can rest or sleep for as many hours as possible, but the feeling of exhaustion does not let up. It is also different than feeling simply tired because it doesn’t just affect the mind and your alertness. There are also physical symptoms associated with the condition (more on these below).
According to studies, CFS is a massive issue for many Americans. Roughly two million people throughout the country struggle with the symptoms of CFS every single day – and that number is only estimated, because getting a CFS diagnosis can be far from easy.
What are the early warning signs of chronic fatigue syndrome?
The earliest sign that you may have chronic fatigue syndrome is an overwhelming sense of tiredness that does not go away. This could see you being less alert throughout the day, experiencing delays in your reaction time, or losing the ability to perform tasks you’re usually a pro at. People with CFS often notice that even after rest or sleep, their feelings of tiredness linger, and physical and mental activities that used to be a breeze now worsen those feelings of exhaustion much more easily than before.
What are chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms?
Once the syndrome has settled in, a person can experience many different symptoms. The syndrome’s mental and physical signs can develop and worsen quite quickly from mild to moderate to severe. CFS symptoms are split into different categories, with the first being primary or core symptoms. A person must experience the three most common signs of the syndrome to be diagnosed with CFS.
- A significant downturn in a person’s ability to perform activities: These activities are typically regarded as daily activities that a person used to perform with ease. The lowered ability to perform tasks has to occur for six months.
- Worsened symptoms after physical or mental activity that wouldn’t affect you before CFS: People may experience many symptoms of CFS following physical or mental exertion that would not arise prior to the onset of the syndrome.
- New sleep disturbances: People with CFS often have difficulty falling or staying asleep and do not feel rested even if they get a whole night’s rest.
Other physical and mental symptoms that can arise in CFS include:
- Difficulty thinking
- Sore throat
- Severe tiredness
- Problems with memory
- Brain fog
- Feeling worsened symptoms when standing or sitting upright
- Chronic pain in the muscles or joints
- Tender lymph nodes in the neck or armpit
- Digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome
- Food sensitivities
- An increased sensitivity to odors, chemicals, noise, or light
- Weak muscles
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular heartbeat
- Night sweats
A person with CFS may not experience all the symptoms mentioned above, but for a diagnosis to be reached, the primary symptoms must be present.
How is chronic fatigue diagnosed?
The first step in the diagnostic process is finding out how long someone has been experiencing feelings of fatigue. As the name suggests, CFS is chronic, which means that it must last for six months or longer to be considered. After that, doctors will review your health history and any other symptoms you’re experiencing, and conduct a physical and mental evaluation.
Since CFS can mimic other conditions, tests will be used to rule out other more severe disorders and confirm a diagnosis. Some possible tests may include:
- Blood test for chronic fatigue syndrome (checking for levels of specific nutrients, such as iron)
- Urine tests
- Other tests as necessary if something other than CFS is suspected following the health work-up
Getting the correct diagnosis is crucial because many other conditions can present similarly and require vastly different treatment plans.
What should I rule out before CFS diagnosis?
There are many severe or damaging health disorders that, if left untreated, can cause a range of complications. Some of these can present the same way as CFS, making it more challenging to get a proper diagnosis and therapy.
Some possible conditions that should be ruled out before reaching a CFS diagnosis include:
- Lyme disease
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Underactive thyroid
- Liver and kidney diseases
All these disorders have varied treatments and repercussions. Because of this, identifying CFS early on is vital to ensure that you are confident in your diagnosis and can pursue the right treatment plan.
Featured image by Bruno Aguirre on Unsplash