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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME

June 26th, 2012 | Posted in 2 Pain, Injuries, Sports

Imagine suddenly feeling sick and exhausted all the time and having someone tell you you’re not really sick. People with chronic fatigue syndrome face that all the time. Some doctors say they’re depressed or that it’s all in their heads – or they’re just whiners or hypochondriacs. It’s also common for them to tell someone, “I have chronic fatigue syndrome,” and hear something like, “I think I have that, too. It seems like I’m always tired.”

Because we don’t yet have a good diagnostic test for ME/CFS, sometimes it’s hard for people with the condition to convince the people around them they’re really sick. It can strain marriages, drive friends apart, and make work conditions especially stressful. People with ME/CFS often end up feeling isolated, which compounds the depression that frequently goes along with any debilitating illness.

Some people with ME/CFS find medications, supplements and life-style changes that help them feel better, but it’s a long, difficult process of experimentation and not everyone finds things that make a big difference. So far, no drug is FDA approved for treating ME/CFS, and no treatment works for everyone.

Chronic fatigue syndrome can take someone who is educated, ambitious, hardworking and tireless, and rob them of their ability to work, clean house, exercise, think clearly and ever feel awake or healthy.

  • It’s NOT psychological “burn out” or depression.
  • It’s NOT laziness.
  • It’s NOT whining or malingering.
  • It IS the result of widespread dysfunction in the body and the brain that’s hard to understand, difficult to treat, and, so far, impossible to cure.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a serious, life-altering, frustrating, often misunderstood illness. What people with ME/CFS need most of all from those around them is emotional support and understanding.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Treatments

ME/CFS impacts more than a million people in the U.S. Treatment can include prescription or over-the-counter medications to help with specific symptoms, complementary or alternative therapies and emotional support.

Common drug types are antidepressants; antivirals; allergy medications (antihistamines); nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve); and immune-system boosters. Early clinical trials suggest that the antiviral drug Ampligen improves how the bodies of ME/CFS patients use oxygen, thereby making it easier for them to exercise. The company that makes is seeking FDA approval.

Also being researched are psychostimulants (including Dexamphetamine, Adderal, Ritalin and Concerta, which may help with memory and concentration problems; D-ribose, which improves cellular function and may help with energy sleep, mental clarity and pain reduction; and antibiotics, which can help level out the immune system.

Some medical practitioners recommend dietary changes, herbal or nutritional supplements, homeopathic remedies, yoga and acupuncture. Because ME/CFS can be an extremely stressful condition, and could be made worse by stress, some sufferers benefit from counseling, support groups and stress-reduction techniques.

Acupuncture can help to alleviate many of the symptoms of CFS including: sleep problems, pain; irritable bowels, nausea, stress and other symptoms.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS) is much more than just being tired a lot. People with ME/CFs are so run down that it interferes with their lives and can make it hard to function at all. The severity varies, but typically people with ME/CFS say they have trouble staying on top of their responsibilities at home and on the job. Others are severely disabled and even bedridden. Furthermore, they’re not just dealing with extreme fatigue but with a wide range of other symptoms, including flu-like symptoms and chronic pain.

After years of research, experts now suspect that something called central sensitization is at least partially to blame for chronic fatigue syndrome. They also believe that’s what makes it so similar to fibromyalgia, which shares many of the same features.

The CDC says the first credible evidence of a biological basis for ME/CFS came in 2006, when twenty researchers from different specialties each linked the illness with genes involved in the sympathetic nervous system and what’s called the HPA axis. These genes control how your body responds to things like injuries and stress.

Many researchers believe at least some cases of ME/CFS are caused by an abnormal reaction to common infectious agents. The condition is tentatively linked the the Epstein-Barr virus, enteroviruses, human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) and Lyme disease, although studies have fallen short of proving a consistent causal link. However, multiple studies suggest that the immune system may be chronically active in people with ME/CFS, which could at least partially explain the fatigue and lack of energy — basically, your body thinks it’s fighting an infection, whether it is or not, and that takes a lot of energy.

Evidence for immune-system activation includes:

  • High levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (a cellular messenger in the immune system)
  • Decreased function of natural killer (NK) cells
  • Presence of autoantibodies (antibodies that attack your own tissues)
  • Reduced response of T cells to specific infectious agents (T cells are white blood cells that attacks infected, foreign or cancerous cells)

Literature on ME/CFS (by different names) dates back to the 1700s. Through the centuries, it’s been falsely attributed to various causes and is only now beginning to be better understood by medical sceience. ME/CFS still goes by many names, including “chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome” (CFIDS), and “myalgic encephalopathy” or “myalgic encephalomyelitis” (ME). Currently, a name change advisory board is working to have the condition officially known as ME/CFS. The call for a name change is rooted in the belief held by some patients and medical workers that the name chronic fatigue syndrome itself trivializes the condition and contributes to continued misunderstanding of it.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms

Symptoms of ME/CFS and their intensity vary from person to person. In most cases, chronic fatigue syndrome comes on suddenly.

Common symptoms include:

  • Sudden severe fatigue, especially following a flu-like illness
  • Sleep that isn’t refreshing
  • Muscle and joint aches without swelling
  • Intense or changing patterns of headaches
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph glands in the neck or armpits
  • Memory problems/inability to concentrate
  • Symptoms have a distict onset

Other symptoms can include:

  • Intolerance to alcohol
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Dry eyes and mouth
  • Impaired circulation in the hands and feet
  • Visual disturbances
  • Painful menstrual periods
  • Cognitive problems

The cognitive problems associated with ME/CFS are sometimes severe. Regardless of how intelligent the person is, he or she may become forgetful, be unable to recall common words, frequently lose a train of thought, or sometimes become confused. Simple tasks such as reading a newspaper, cooking a simple meal, or finding your car in a parking lot become daunting and overwhelming. In many people, cognitive problems are so severe that they chose to stop driving completely.

Well-meaning people frequently tell those with ME/CFS that they’d feel better if they’d get more exercise. Most people do get an energy boost from exertion, but people with ME/CFS don’t. They have a symptoms called post-exertional malaise, which means that even small amounts of exertion can make all of their symptoms worse for a couple of days. Since deconditioning can add to the fatigue and weakness that ME/CFS patients face, a gentle graded routine is one of the treatment recommendations.

For fatigue to be considered severe, it must meet the four following criteria:

  • It’s not relieved by sleep or rest
  • It’s not the result of strenuous physical labor
  • It significantly lowers your ability to function normally in most situations
  • It gets a lot worse after mental or physical exertion, or after you’ve been sick