10 Tell-Tale Signs of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a fast-emerging health issue and, according to a report from the American Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Society, about an estimated 17-24 million people worldwide suffer from this condition.

What are the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME)) is a long-term illness with a wide range of symptoms, the most common of which is the constant feeling of tiredness. It affects people from all age groups, particularly women in their mid-20s to their mid-40s.

Here are the core signs that you need to watch out for if you think you have CFS/ME…

1. Frequent Fatigue

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Fatigue is the primary symptom of CFS/ME, and it’s a different level of tiredness than what others usually experience. This condition causes you to have difficulty going through your normal activities for about 6 months or longer.

Does it have something to do with the heavy task I did some time ago?

Contrary to what others usually think, it is not triggered by unusually difficult tasks.

Can I just sleep this condition off?

Sleeping won’tnecessarily cure it, although better sleeping habits can reduce its severity.

As the primary symptom, it also manifests itself in the following…

2. Worsening of CFS/ME Symptoms After Physical Activity

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The CDC describes this symptom as a post-exertional malaise (PEM), which people describe as a sort of “crash” after doing even minimal physical or mental activities. It often causes people to be housebound or be confined to their beds. These crashes usually last for about 12 to 48 hours, with some cases that last up to days and even weeks on end.

Does “pushing yourself” help?

PEM can be relieved by setting limits on physical activity and rest through pacing (activity management). This way, it helps people to determine the maximum level of activity without triggering crashes. Though, one should do this cautiously, lest they relapse and restart the cycle all over again.

But maintaining some activity is good, right?

Deconditioning from your routine can be harmful too. So, it’s important that the patient must maintain some level of activity—just with great caution. People who’ve carefully learned to listen to their bodies and learned their limits have experienced certain improvements in their conditions.

Sometimes, the hassle doesn’t stop even in idleness…

3. Difficulty Sleeping

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People with CFS/ME often complain of having extreme difficulty sleeping than they did before getting ill. Things like muscular spasms, vivid dreams, feelings of restlessness, and frequent awakenings impede normal sleep. And even when they do get a full night’s rest, they don’t feel that much relief, either.

Can I take medication to fix it?

Dr. Peter Rowe, director of the Chronic Fatigue Clinic at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, states that physicians have varying opinions on the matter. But whether you’re considering taking over-the-counter aids or “natural” remedies, you still have to consult with your doctor first.

Will it help if I modify my sleep habits?

Creating and maintaining better habits like unwinding, making your environment more comfortable, or even replacing your old lumpy mattress with a better one may significantly improve your quality of sleep.

Having poor quality of sleep can agitate other symptoms…

4. Problems With Memory and Concentration

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Patients often suffer from forgetfulness, difficulty paying attention, having a hard time thinking clearly, and concentrating.

Getting out of the fog

As with physical activities, patients should learn to pace their cognitive activities and implement periods of rest and limits in order to avoid mental overexertion. Keeping a to-do list or jotting things down in a journal are ways that can help the patient stimulate their minds.

Are stimulants effective for these symptoms?

Again, like with PEM, it’s important to consult with your doctor before taking medication for mental problems.

In some cases, mental unrest, coupled with medications, often leads to another obstacle…

5. Orthostatic Intolerance

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Orthostatic intolerance (OI) occurs when CFS/ME sufferers experience lightheadedness, dizziness, or faintness while moving about or by simply keeping an upright posture. Adolescent patients suffer from orthostatic intolerance in particular.

Alleviating OI’s effects

Here are a couple of ways to remedy orthostatic problems:

  • Avoid hot/humid environments and prolonged standing
  • Enforce adequate salt and fluid consumption
  • Wearing compression stocking and light/cool clothing.
  • Employ counter-maneuvers to increase orthostatic tolerance

All of these symptoms could also trigger a combination of other conditions…

6. Anxiety & Depression

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Depression and anxiety, much like fatigue, are part and parcel of chronic fatigue syndrome, with a 70-90% prevalence. These two conditions often affect our physical activity and thought processes. Dr. David Bell, one of the co-authors of the International Consensus Criteria for CFS/ME, attests to this fact, adding that the cause is psychiatric, not physiological.

Oftentimes when anxiety strikes, this next symptom is all too familiar…

7. Headaches

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Research shows that headache is a common but often overlooked symptom suffered by CFS/ME patients. These last for about 30 minutes, and in some cases, up to 7 days at a time. Dizzying spells might also occur intermittently.

But your head won’t be the only thing hurting at this point…

8. Muscle Pain

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People who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome may experience aching muscles and joints. This pain is described in varying ways; some feel a burning or tingling sensation, or even intense throbbing.

The pain often moves from one part of the body to the other…

9. Sore Throat

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Dr. Katrina Berne, a clinical psychologist dealing with CFS/ME, reported that 50-90% of CFS/ME patients suffer from chronic sore throat. In fact, it’s so prevelant that the Canada Consensus Criteria sees this sign as an optional basis for diagnosis.

Some people might think that these other symptoms are tolerable, which is not always the case…

10. Heightened Sensitivity to Pain

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Having a lowered pain threshold is reported among some CFS/ME patients. They often complain of extreme sensitivity to light, touch, and even temperatures, which often exacerbates other symptoms making the condition even more unbearable.

What’s Next?

There is still no definite cure in sight for chronic fatigue syndrome yet. Treatment for CFS/ME aims to reduce its symptoms through pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical methods, as well as helping patients cope through self-management. Results may still vary, since each patient has different levels of pain and tolerance and it may take a while to see improvements. It is important to remember, though, that recovery is possible.

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