The Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, decrypted and demystified

John Chronic Fatigue - comic

When you’ve felt tired for too long, you go wander on the internet with the hope of finding a solution. You then usually end up in front of the CFS: the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Let’s see what it is, and, most of all, if it can bring any help or not.

Warning: the tone of this article could happen to be a bit satirical. Nevertheless, no animal has been harmed during the writing.

Definition

It’s simple: the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a state of fatigue that does not disappear after resting, and that has lasted for more than 6 months.

too long fatigue - comic

But… is that even a disease?

Yes and no. Actually, the CFS, as its name indicates, was just a syndrome, not a disease. A syndrome is a set of clinical signs and symptoms. The acronym CFS has been invented recently (in the years 1980), in order to be able to regroup all the tired people that we had no idea what to do with.

The circle of the chronic fatigue syndrome CFS - comic

Eventually, in the 1990s, the WHO regrouped the CFS with an older neurological disease called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis ( ME ) in its ICD (International List of Diseases), Number 10 . Since then, the two names are considered to be one:  SFC/ME , classified as a neurological disease. It is now an official disease, recognized by many entities like the CDC  (American) and the NHS (British).

What are the specificities of that syndrome?

In addition to chronic fatigue, several elements appear frequently:

  • Chronic pains
  • Attention and memory disorders, and a slower reaction time
  • Many other problems that will vary from one person to another

Well, honestly, that does not look very specific… Besides, some people will experience an almost normal life, while others will have to stay in bed all day, completely disabled and enable to get up.

tired in bed - comic

The cause

Hm… some think it could be eithera virus, or bacterias, or maybe auto-immune…
So we just don’t know (at all). Still, some immunity disruptions have been identified in the patients. But not sure whether it’s the cause of the consequence…

Some also raise problems around the vegetative (or autonomous) nervous system, that would alter the sleep quality. But once again, it’s not too sure…

In short, all tracks remain open.

How is it diagnosed?

How the diagnostic is done can seem a bit surprising: if a patient undergoes chronic fatigue and no known disease can be identified, then it is CFS. Well, you still need to verify that it comes with a few symptoms like chronic pain or attention disorders. Otherwise it wouldn’t be serious!

The treatment

Once you have that disease that isn’t really one, clearly identified with a reliable diagnostic, how do you handle it?

The recommandations are to go and see a doctor, because the treatments may vary from one person to another (no kidding…).

Still, it seems that exercising, along with a cognitive behavior therapy, could have a positive influence. So, moving around, replacing dark thoughts by positive thinking, handling stress and meditation: all that could help…. Don’t mock, they actually did studies in order to prove that! In the end, it helps be doesn’t really cure…

If some manage to heal from it, the majority has to learn and live with the fatigue.

So, is it useless?

The CFS has been created in order to regroup chronic diseases that are not identified yet. That’s why there would be no single disease, no unique origin, no miracle treatment. But don’t make me say what I didn’t ; even though I’m making fun of it, I still think that the CFS is a good thing, and for several reasons.

The acknowledgment of the suffering

Before, there was only one possible destination for people suffering from chronic fatigue: psychiatry. And yes, still today, when a doctor has no clue of what you have, he will think about depression. It’s always more rewarding than confessing that he just doesn’t know.

This syndrome enables the acknowledgment of a trouble with a physiological (not psychological) origin, of a disability and of a true suffering. These people can now feel understood. Of course, this does not cure their illness, but it is for them an enormous relief.

Because of harassment from the doctors and the entourage, some people ended up persuading themselves that they were crazy, and some even commit suicide. This changes the mindset of the person, but also that of his entourage. It’s like day and night.

The associations

The recognition of this syndrome has allowed the creation of associations. Often founded by people with chronic fatigue themselves, these associations provide some significant help. They enable:

  • Realizing that many people suffer from the same problem, and that we are not alone
  • Answering to questions of patients (doctors do not always have time for this , and some may not know)
  • Showing where to find help and accompaniments
  • Connect patients to share their testimonies and help each other

happy people - comic

Research

Acknowledgment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome also helps to fund research groups dedicated to this problem . It is a big step forward. That being said, the funds allocated for research in this area are peanuts compared to research against AIDS or cancer. They therefore have very few resources and the solution is not going to be for tomorrow. However, the number of people suffering from the CFS could be just as important as AIDS or cancer (I will not give figures: not only is the diagnosis somewhat random, but in addition many people are not diagnosed at all).

Conclusion

I think it was important to decrypt this syndrome because there is often too much confusion around it. Itself, it will bring you nothing more than recognition (and that’s already a lot) as a suffering person.

What we should eventually remember is that this syndrome has become a disease, but it isn’t really, and that it has no unique treatment. So if you want to be cured (let’s assume yes ), you will have to keep searching and widen your field of research: there are testimonies of people who manage to overcome chronic fatigue, but it is often various solutions adapted to different people and there is no single truth.

What about you? Are you in contact with any CFS association? Leave your answer in the comments below.

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