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Is It Chronic Fatigue or Just Constant Exhaustion?


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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates between one and four million Americans have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). However, less than 20 percent of those people are actually diagnosed. This is because fatigue itself is one of the most common adult ailments, caused by a variety of impairments, illnesses and lifestyle factors.

If you are concerned you might have CFS, it is important to understand the difference between fatigue, chronic fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Recognizing Different Kinds of Fatigue

There are three different kinds of fatigue, each with varying symptoms, causes, and viable treatments. Understanding the difference between these kinds of fatigue can help you and your doctor identify the source of your exhaustion and how to treat it.

Fatigue – Fatigue is simply exhaustion that occurs during or after typical daily activities. Fatigue can be caused by overexertion, lack of sleep or acute illnesses like a cold or flu. This kind of fatigue goes away with rest or recovery and often does not last long.

Chronic fatigue – Like fatigue, chronic fatigue is also a symptom of something else. It can be caused by infection, chronic illness, insomnia, hormone abnormalities, nutritional deficiency or stress. In order to be considered chronic, this fatigue must last for six months or more. Chronic fatigue is alleviated by treating the source of fatigue.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – Unlike chronic fatigue, CFS is a medical condition characterized by extreme and constant fatigue that does not improve with rest and lasts for at least six months. It is also accompanied by other symptoms including exercise intolerance, flu-like symptoms and cognitive dysfunction.

Diagnosing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

In order to be diagnosed with CFS, you must have at least four of the following symptoms:

  • Impaired memory or concentration
  • Post-exertional weakness and discomfort
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain without swelling or redness
  • Severe or new headaches
  • Frequent sore throat
  • Tender lymph nodes

Unfortunately, many of the signs and symptoms of CFS are also associated with other illnesses, making it difficult to diagnose. Furthermore, there are no definitive lab tests to prove CFS and it is common for this condition to go in and out of relapse.

Living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

There is no cure for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Symptoms vary widely from person to person and can change over time, so it’s important to track your symptoms and work with your doctor to come up with the best treatment plan for you. Some common treatments include:

  • Physical therapy for pain
  • Sleep therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy or professional counseling
  • Over-the-counter medications and prescriptions
  • Nutritional and herbal supplements
  • Exercise modifications

If you are experiencing symptoms of chronic fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, consult your doctor to learn more about your treatment options and a plan for rehabilitation.

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