Understanding Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Understanding chronic fatigue syndrome will help fight the stigma of CFS and create awareness for this devastating disease.

CFS is more than just fatigue. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a serious, debilitating medical condition. The name of the illness does not adequately reflect its complexity. In addition to severe fatigue, individuals with CFS experience cognitive problems, pain in the muscles and joints, tender lymph nodes, headaches and many other symptoms .

CFS is a real medical condition. There is no known cause or cure for CFS; however, scientists have identified numerous biological abnormalities in CFS patients. One leading theory is that the illness is rooted in the immune system, endocrine system and central nervous system. When any of these systems is activated, the others are affected.

CFS is underdiagnosed. Fewer than 10 percent of people with CFS have been diagnosed by a medical practitioner. More than 90 percent remain ill with little or no medical treatment. CFS is often misdiagnosed because it can mimic many other disorders, including multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease and lupus.

CFS can be treated. Physicians can help improve a patient’s quality of life by treating symptoms such as sleep disorders, pain and gastrointestinal difficulties. Drug therapy, physical therapy and lifestyle changes are often recommended.

CFS is not psychological in origin. Medical studies have proven CFS is not “all in the head,” laziness or a mental disorder that can be cured with psychiatric treatment. Some patients are also clinically depressed, but that is understandable, given the debilitating nature of the symptoms.

CFS affects everyone. CFS used to be thought of as the “yuppie flu,” affecting white, middle-class professionals. Recent studies have changed that image, showing that CFS strikes men, women and children of all age, ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

CFS is variable. As with autoimmune disorders, CFS affects each individual differently. Patients range from being mildly affected to being completely homebound. Some people "recover” (fewer than 12%, according to research), some cycle between periods of relatively good health and severe illness, and a few gradually worsen over time. Others improve but never fully recover.

CFS can be severe. According to the CFIDS Association’s recent survey of more than 8,000 medical professionals, physicians believe CFS is as disabling or moredisabling than other more well-known chronic illnesses, such as lupus or multiple sclerosis. People with CFS can be so ill that they cannot complete the daily tasks of living, such as eating, showering or sitting up in bed. They may require awheelchair or be completely bedbound.

CFS is a serious public health problem. The majority of cases in the United States are found in women between the ages of 40-49. CFS is three times more common than HIV infection in women and 25 times more common than AIDS among women, yet receives far less media attention and research funding.

People with CFS need your help. There is still much to be learned about CFS. Legislators, the research community and the general public need to call for increased research and education. We need to work together to conquer this complex medical mystery and help the millions around the world who live with the nightmare of CFS every day to reclaim their lives.

Source: CFIDS Association

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