Chronic fatigue is much more than just being tired all the time.
As a wife, a mother of four, and an orthopaedic surgeon, I am loosely familiar with what it feels like to be tired. In this day and age, women are juggling more responsibilities than ever, so its no surprise that we experience exhaustion on different levels throughout the day. Most of the time these bouts of fatigue can be solved with some relaxation or a shot of espresso, but it does come to a point where you might wonder if something more is wrong.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is an unexplained and extreme feeling of tiredness that can last for months, or even years. It impacts your ability to function in your daily life, and can change your relationships with people, and with yourself.
The Institute of Medicine committee estimates that 2.5 million Americans suffer from CFS, and 84% of them are undiagnosed. Although it affects both sexes, women are four times more likely to suffer from CFS, and it is most common in people in their 40s and 50s.
Although it is believed to be genetic, we don’t exactly know what causes CFS, and diagnosing it is a challenge as well because the symptoms resemble a lot of other illnesses. The best way to tell if you have chronic fatigue syndrome is to see a doctor, but you should only do so if you experience the following:
The exhaustion that comes from CFS is long, and debilitating. It is characterized by an abrupt reduction in your ability to function, and a tiredness that lasts six months or more.
You may have CFS if activities that should not tire you out, such as sitting for prolonged periods of time bring about exhaustion. The tiredness will remain even if you get adequate sleep at night, and will most likely result in you being home or bed-bound eventually. At points where you do push yourself physically, you may experience post-exertional malaise, which manifests as lymph-node swelling, joint pain, or bodily pain instead of the ‘high’ of serotonin you would normally get after exercise.
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Another symptom of CFS is waking up tired. If you wake up feeling like you haven’t slept at all, or suffer from severe sleeping problems, you may also have chronic fatigue.
Lightheadedness is also a symptom of CFS. If just standing in one place brings on feelings of dizziness or fainting, you may need to get checked. The formal term for this is ‘othostatic intolerance’, and is linked to the effect the chronic fatigue has on the autonomic nervous system.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is difficult to diagnose, but the best way to determine whether you are affected is to trust your body. If you have prolonging feelings of exhaustion coupled with other unexplainable symptoms that make it difficult for you to function in your daily life, the best thing to do is get yourself to a doctor to get checked. There are therapies and medications that may help you get your life back.
The biggest hurdle to this syndrome is admitting the problem. After all, we all like to believe we can take on anything, but sometimes there is an underlying medical condition that is holding us back.