Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS): What Is It?

CFS, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or M.E./Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is a debilitating disorder that can afflict anyone of any age. Symptoms can be very draining and can affect both the body and mind, making the sufferer feel incredibly unwell. There are two main categories of symptoms and these are muscle symptoms and ‘head’ symptoms. Muscle symptoms include muscle fatigue, muscle pain, muscle spasms, pain within the body after any type of physical exertion and clumsiness. These symptoms can extend to difficulty in balancing and walking, pain within the joints as well as enlarged glands within the throat and a constant low level sore throat. Sufferers tend to deal with constant fatigue, especially if they have done physical exercise, and they also have to deal with a whole host of ‘head’ symptoms including headaches, dizziness, confusion, ‘swimmy’ feelings, loss of concentration and poor memory. Digestive symptoms are also common, such as nausea and symptoms similar to IBS.

So what is this disorder? Ask two different doctors and you’ll get two very different answers. CFS tends to divide the medical profession right down the middle; some doctors believe that it is a real, genuine illness, whilst others believe that it is little more than severe depression and a cold. The fact that the medical world is so divided over CFS makes it very difficult for sufferers to get the treatment that they need, and it also leaves them vulnerable to scam treatments as it is very difficult to find a proven medical treatment. The divide in opinion also means that not many studies are done on CFS, so the cause of it still has not been determined.

One theory into what causes CFS is a trauma of some description. That trauma could either be medical or psychological – some sufferers could have had a hospital stay, some sufferers could have dealt with a bereavement or another psychological trauma and some sufferers could have had a medical problem such as a bad bout of flu. Some sufferers can come down with CFS without any warning – and that’s what happened with me.

I saw five doctors before one could give me a correct diagnosis to explain why I was feeling the way I was and even then, she could not give me a way of treating the problem. The first doctor I saw told me that I was dealing with exam stress. The second, third and fourth doctors I saw could see no physical abnormalities – I could walk, talk, respond to light, sound and touch and I had managed to come into the doctor’s office. That left an incorrect diagnosis of depression and an incorrect treatment of anti-depressant drugs which left me confused and sick. Eventually, I found a doctor that believed in chronic fatigue syndrome as a genuine illness and I managed to get the diagnosis that I’d been looking for.

The stigma against chronic fatigue syndrome is immense, and that is because it can be difficult for others to see what is physically wrong with you. If you can walk, talk, go about your life, do the shopping and see your friends, how can there be anything wrong with you? It can be dismissed as ‘just being tired’ or ‘needing more sleep’, and that can cause sufferers to bottle up their problems and not share them with other people.

If you have a friend or family member that seems quiet or who is staying in rather than going out, who seems to be tired all the time, don’t just dismiss it as them needing to sleep more. Talk to them and show them that you understand some of what they might be going through. For more information on CFS, go to http://www.meassociation.org.uk/.