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How to Tell if You Have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

How to Tell if You Have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By Stacey Feintuch

Created: 10/31/2018
Last Updated: 10/31/2018

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We've all had days when we're just plain tired. Maybe we hit the hay too late. Or we awoke early. Or we just had trouble falling or staying asleep.

But if you're tired all the time, you may start to worry that something else is going on. You may have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis and often referred to as ME/CFS. It's a tough diagnosis to make because fatigue can be a symptom of many illnesses.

This complicated disorder is characterized by extreme fatigue that can't be explained by any underlying medical conditions. It may worsen with mental or physical activity. But it doesn't get better with rest. And it's persistent and excessive.

Cause
The cause of ME/CFS is unknown. Some theories range from stress to viral infections. Some believe it's triggered by a combination of factors.

Symptoms
Just because you're tired all the time doesn't mean you have ME/CFS. Fatigue can be associated with so many conditions. Plus, it's often caused by lifestyle factors, not illness. With ME/CFS, the fatigue worsens even after mild exertion. You often have flu-like symptoms, brain fog and many other symptoms. It's been described as coming down with the flu but not getting better.

If you have CFS, you may have:

  • Sore throat

  • Fatigue

  • Memory or concentration loss (which may come from a lack of true rest)

  • Headaches

  • Unrefreshing or lack of productive sleep (you get plenty of sleep but you're still exhausted the next day)

  • Unexplained joint or muscle pain (inflammation is your body's way of fighting infection; as your body fights the viruses that may cause ME/CFS, your pains may be signs of that battle)

  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your armpits or neck (which happens when you have a virus; in this case, you have several viruses)

  • Sensitivity to light (you get headaches from certain kinds of artificial light and have to squint to see)

  • Nausea or vomiting from normal activities that didn't used to be a problem, and it can take more than 24 hours to recover

Diagnosis
No single test can confirm an ME/CFS diagnosis. Be patient waiting for a diagnosis because its symptoms mimic so many other health conditions. Your health care professional will want to rule out sleep disorders, medical problems, chronic infections (like mono), autoimmune diseases (like lupus or multiple sclerosis), lung and heart problems and mental health issues.

Learn about secrets of good sleepers.

Treatment
Treatment focuses on symptom relief. Many people with ME/CFS are also depressed. Treating depression can make it easier to cope with ME/CFS, help improve sleep and relieve pain. You may also be told to speak with a therapist who can help you work out the limitations that ME/CFS puts on your life. And a physical therapist can help figure out what exercises are best for you.

Find out about the most common sleep disorders.

You may also limit or eliminate caffeine intake to help you sleep better and ease your insomnia. If you have trouble sleeping at night, try not to nap during the day.

Check out the best teas for sleep.

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