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What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complicated disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that can't be explained by any underlying medical condition. The fatigue may worsen with physical or mental activity, but doesn't improve with rest.

The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is unknown, although there are many theories — ranging from viral infections to psychological stress. Some experts believe chronic fatigue syndrome might be triggered by a combination of factors.

There's no single test to confirm a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. You may need a variety of medical tests to rule out other health problems that have similar symptoms. Treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome focuses on symptom relief.

Chronic fatigue syndrome has eight official signs and symptoms, plus the central symptom that gives the condition its name:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of memory or concentration
  • Sore throat
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
  • Unexplained muscle pain
  • Pain that moves from one joint to another without swelling or redness
  • Headache of a new type, pattern or severity
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise

Scientists don't know exactly what causes chronic fatigue syndrome. It may be a combination of factors that affect people who were born with a predisposition for the disorder.

Some of the factors that have been studied include:

  • Viral infections. Because some people develop chronic fatigue syndrome after having a viral infection, researchers question whether some viruses might trigger the disorder.

    Suspicious viruses include Epstein-Barr virus, human herpes virus 6 and mouse leukemia viruses. No conclusive link has yet been found.

  • Immune system problems. The immune systems of people who have chronic fatigue syndrome appear to be impaired slightly, but it's unclear if this impairment is enough to actually cause the disorder.
  • Hormonal imbalances. People who have chronic fatigue syndrome also sometimes experience abnormal blood levels of hormones produced in the hypothalamus, pituitary glands or adrenal glands. But the significance of these abnormalities is still unknown.

Diagnostic criteria

To meet the diagnostic criteria of chronic fatigue syndrome, you must have unexplained, persistent fatigue for six months or more, along with at least four of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Loss of memory or concentration
  • Sore throat
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
  • Unexplained muscle pain
  • Pain that moves from one joint to another without swelling or redness
  • Headache of a new type, pattern or severity
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise

Source: The Mayo Clinic.org

More than one million Americans have CFS. This illness strikes more people in the United States than multiple sclerosis, lupus, and many forms of cancer.

Researchers continue to explore possible causes and risk factors for CFS. Many questions remain, but there are some characteristics that may help indicate who is most at risk for CFS:

  • CFS occurs four times more frequently in women than in men, although people of either sex can develop the disease
  • The illness occurs most often in people in their 40s and 50s, but people of all ages can get CFS
  • CFS is less common in children than in adults. Studies suggest that CFS is more prevalent in adolescents than in younger children
  • CFS occurs in all ethnic and racial groups and in countries around the world. Research indicates that CFS is at least as common among African Americans and Hispanics as it is among Caucasians
  • People of all income levels can develop CFS
  • CFS is sometimes seen in members of the same family, but that does not indicate that it's contagious. Instead, there may be a familial or genetic link. Further research is needed to explore this possibility

Source: CDC.gov

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