Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is undeniably complicated in every conceivable way. The disorder has been around for decades, but the medical community has yet to assemble a clear picture of it. The condition is characterized by extreme fatigue that can’t be explained by any underlying medical condition. Physical or mental activity can make it worse, but rest doesn’t make it better. There’s no single test to confirm a CFS diagnosis, and experts so far have mostly only alluded to a cause with many believing it’s brought on by a combination of factors. One thing is certain: if you have CFS, it can make your life utterly miserable. Your level of functioning will be very low because you simply don’t have the energy to do anything, namely work and daily tasks. Those around you find it hard to understand what you’re going through and you feel sick, sore, exhausted, and alone.
How do I know?
I suffered through CFS for much of the 1990s and dealt with these ten common misconceptions concerning this misunderstood disorder…
1. CFS Is Not “All in your head”
That’s right, CFS is a real disease. Though the word syndrome refers to a pattern or set of symptoms, CFS is an affliction unto itself. Those who suffer from it aren’t just “tired all the time.” They experience a range of debilitating symptoms that may include sleep disturbances, muscle and joint pain, sore throat, headaches, and memory problems. Some complain of feeling like they’re in a state of “brain fog” where concentration and focus is difficult, if not impossible. Because there is no definitive test for diagnosing CFS, many doubt it exists and it has long carried the stigma of an invisible, or made-up, condition–one that just happens to have afflicted millions of people worldwide.
2. Cause Unknown
The symptoms of CFS seem to indicate that the syndrome is characterized by breakdown of the immune system. However, it’s not known what causes this immunologic dysfunction. That’s the great mystery of CFS. It’s been linked to everything from virus infections and traumatic conditions (post traumatic stress disorder, for example) to high levels on continuous stress–both physical and emotional–and environmental toxins. CFS was initially thought to be caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, but that is no longer the case. Researchers and doctors continue to be stymied by CFS and many treat it according to the patient’s individual symptoms.
3. No Known Cure
How do you cure an affliction that has many varied symptoms, no known cause, and is often misdiagnosed? The medical community hasn’t yet found an answer to the CFS puzzle. Unfortunately for sufferers, this means doctors often end up treating the disease in an attempt to lessen its symptoms. They may recommend making lifestyle changes involving diet and exercise, and eliminating the activities that trigger fatigue. (Unfortunately this often means eliminating nearly everything.) They may prescribe over-the-counter pain relievers and prescription medications, and may even suggest alternative treatments to help the patient feel more energized.
4. Concerning Alternative Treatments
What do I have to lose? I’ve heard CFS sufferers say this countless times over the years. Many of them turn to so-called alternative treatments because they are prepared to do anything to gain even a little bit of energy and sleep. These treatments may include massage, acupuncture, chiropractic care, and yoga. The first three are covered under many extended health plans. All have gained great prominence in the treatment of chronic health disorders and in the realm of continuing care services. Naturopathic medicine is an avenue often chosen by those who seek an alternative to drugs. Most communities have a licensed professional.
5. Anyone Can Get CFS
The wide range of theories regarding who can get, or who is prone to, CFS is as varied as the symptoms of the disease. The truth seems to point at the fact that anyone can get it, regardless of age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status. One misconception is that it only affects older adults. It is rare for anyone under 12 to develop the disease. Since CFS is so often associated with immunologic breakdown, it is believed that many sufferers have come down with the syndrome following a period of prolonged or extreme stress, either physical or mental.