Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by debilitating fatigue that worsens with physical or mental activity, but does not improve with sleep or bed rest. The fatigue is usually accompanied by sore joints and muscles. The combination of extreme fatigue and sore joints and muscles results in an inability to perform daily tasks.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is one of the least understood medical conditions. The exact cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is not known, but a number of contributing factors have been identified. A viral infection or autoimmune disorder are believed to be among the top causes. Other causes include anemia, low blood sugar, allergies, hormonal changes and low blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Overwhelming fatigue is the focal symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome, but there are other symptoms that are always present in those with the disease. These symptoms include moving joint pain, muscle pain, loss of memory and concentration, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and headache. Other symptoms that vary among specific cases of chronic fatigue syndrome include abdominal pain, depression, anxiety, chest pain, cough, dizziness, dry mouth, jaw pain, nausea, chills, visual disturbances and tingling sensations throughout the body. Symptoms usually come and go in waves, but in some can start off minor and become progressively worse.
There are no tests for a definitive diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome, so diagnosis is often difficult. In order to be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, a person must have experienced extreme fatigue for at least six months that does not improve with sleep or bed rest, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to prolonged fatigue, four of the aforementioned symptoms must be present at the same time for the same period of time. These symptoms must also be considered to interfere with daily activities. Various laboratory and blood tests will also be used to rule out other diseases.
Treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome is based on symptoms. Low blood pressure, muscle aches, sleeping difficulties, anxiety and depression can be treated with a combination of medications. Individualized programs consisting of physical therapy, exercise therapy and cognitive behavorial therapy may help to improve other symptoms. In most cases of chronic fatigue syndrome, symptoms dissipate on their own over time.
The American Academy of Family Physicians suggests a number of things that can be done to improve quality of life while experiencing symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. Keeping a diary of the times of the day when the most energy is felt can aid in activity planning. Regular light exercise can help to maintain physical strength and mental health. Support groups and counseling can also be beneficial for those who are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression due to chronic fatigue syndrome.