Being tired after a day of work is normal because a night of sleep will help. But what does it mean when you're always tired and no amount of rest seems to take the fatigue away?
Do you often feel overwhelming tiredness that you just can't seem to shake off? The one where no amount of sleep helps fix? You might have been brushing it off as stress, but if it has been occurring for a while, it is time to take note and do something about it.
It is a disorder that is characterized by extreme fatigue that can't be explained by any underlying medical condition, according to Mayo Clinic. And while it can be managed through certain techniques, there aren't any approved or well-defined treatment methods. It is also called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) or Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease (SEID).
Observer spoke to Dr Nathan Holladay, a private practitioner who specializes in ME/CFS about why it is important to differentiate it from general phases of fatigue. "Chronic fatigue simply means long-standing fatigue,” he explained. “The problem is that when people hear the words ‘chronic fatigue,’ they’ll say, ‘I’m tired, too.’” He added that it is best called a disorder as chronic fatigue syndrome "because you’re talking about something more severe."
According to the Mayo Clinic, there's no single test to diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome. It is important to first rule out other health problems and underlying causes that may give rise to similar symptoms. These are the primary symptoms of CFS.
1. You feel unrefreshed after a night’s sleep
If, despite the recommended eight hours of sleep, you still feel exhausted, then you might need to visit a doctor. "Chronic fatigue syndrome is diagnosed by having at least 6 months of disabling fatigue that has been evaluated by a doctor and found not to be the result of any medical or psychiatric disease," says Dr James N. Baraniuk, MD, professor of medicine at Georgetown University, according to Healio Rheumatology.
2. You have memory fog and trouble focusing on tasks
If you find yourself forgetting simple things, even those that are routine to you, or you are unable to focus on a task at hand, then you need to talk to your doctor. According to Harvard Health, when these symptoms are severe enough to affect your routine activities at home, work, or social functions, it is a more certain sign of CFS. You may even find it hard to say easy words or have trouble recollecting basic things. It is also possible that you struggle to fall asleep. This can add to the existing level of exhaustion felt by the person.
3. You have unexplained joint pain
If you find yourself experiencing joint pains but see no swelling or redness around the said joint, it could be a sign of CFS. However, this could also be characterized by age and lifestyle wherein if you're older or are obese, you could be suffering from joint pain. It is important to report any form of pain or pressure to your doctor almost as soon as you begin noticing it.
4. You suffer extreme reactions to physical exertion
While it is normal for you to feel exhausted after strenuous physical exercise, especially if it exert yourself after a long gap, it isn't normal if usual activities make you feel drained. If doing physical activity makes you nauseous or gets you weak and tired for days after, then you could be suffering from CFS. Visiting your doctor a day after this reaction is your best course of action. Sometimes, this level of fatigue can happen if you have a cold or flu, or lacking rest for weeks together. But none of these are possible reasons, your body is likely to be undergoing the effects of CFS.
5. You have severe headaches
A headache could be a sign of many underlying causes. It could be lifestyle issues such as looking at a brightly lit screen for too long or skipping a meal, or a symptom of underlying medical issues. If you have a persistent headache along with other symptoms listed above, this could be another indication of CFS.
6. Your lymph nodes are tender and swollen
If you are experiencing the general symptoms listed above, it is important to check your lymph nodes for swelling. Do a check under your underarms and around your neck to feel for any swollen nodules (it will feel like small, round balls) in those areas. If they cause you pain and are slightly firm to the touch, visit a doctor right away.
While there isn't enough research to clearly indicate all the causes of CFS, viral infections, immune system problems, and hormonal imbalances seem to be the common triggers. The biggest risk factor that the medical community seems to agree with is stress. Managing stress and ensuring your daily and weekly routine minimal stress is the first step to managing the symptoms.
According to Medscape, CFS affects "up to 4 million people in the United States." However, it also states that "85% of US citizens with CFS remain undiagnosed."
The reason for it going undiagnosed is because these symptoms are mistaken for short-term, stress or fever-related issues. Additionally, there are no tests that can identify the disorder and since these symptoms can come in cycles, it can be difficult to diagnose it.
As of right now, there are no approved treatments available for CFS. However, your doctor can help you manage the symptoms and ensure it doesn't worsen over time.