Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or CFS, is the name of an illness that can come on suddenly, or slowly over time. The main symptom is an intense fatigue that does not resolve with rest. It can be persistent or intermittent, but must have lasted six months or more. Generally, people begin to experience the symptoms after a viral illness like mononucleosis or flu, or after a very stressful period in their life. If you were an active, busy person before this illness began, the difference in your life will be hard to imagine. It can affect every aspect of your life. Accomplishing the normal daily tasks can become very hard. It strains relationships with family, friends, and at the office. Working may not be possible if your symptoms are severe.
Common symptoms include a deep fatigue, and short term memory and concentration problems– often called brain fog. Muscle and joint pains that move around, headaches, swollen lymph glands, and digestive disturbances are also frequent. Muscle weakness, heaviness in the legs, a lack of stamina, very low energy, and taking days to recover after any exertion are common. Often there is a high susceptibility to other illnesses. Some people get dizzy if they stand up too fast, or stand in one place too long. Many people run a persistent low-grade fever with a sore throat. Night sweats, morning stiffness, and waking up as or even more tired than you went to bed are also frequently a symptom. There are treatments that can help somewhat, but no cause or cure has been found. The unrelenting fatigue and body aches can be very wearing.
Irritability and depression go along with CFS. It feels like having the flu, all the time. Before being diagnosed with CFS, your doctor should rule out other illnesses that can cause fatigue. There are two illnesses that must be ruled out, but that may be overlooked.
Many doctors do not think to check for sleep disorders. Sleep apnea prevents you from getting the deep sleep your body needs in order to repair its tissues. Unless you mention that you snore, it might never occur to your doctor to check. If you live alone, you might not even know that you snore. Some people do not snore but still have sleep apnea. The hallmark of sleep apnea is daytime sleepiness. Even while driving, a person deficient in deep sleep will find it hard to focus and not fall asleep. It causes many memory and concentration problems. During the night, if you have sleep apnea, your breathing will pause for more than 10 seconds. While this does not sound like a long time for breathing to pause, (and up to 5 times per hour is considered normal), it can happen 6-30 times per hour or more. The result is a body and brain that are getting low on oxygen. This causes you to partially awaken to restart breathing, usually with a gasp. This interruption of the sleep cycle not only prevents deep sleep, but also causes the blood pressure to spike, the heart to race, and the body to fight for survival. It is not exactly a restful way to sleep, and greatly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure due to sleep apnea does not drop at night, like that from other causes. It is usually observed by someone else, as the person having the apnea is rarely aware of it. People with sleep apnea often get up to use the bathroom several times a night. They may awaken with a dull headache, and lack stamina. Night sweats during apnea episodes are common. If you think you might have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, you should ask your doctor to schedule a sleep study for you. During a sleep study you will sleep overnight at the sleep lab. Your brain waves, heart rhythms, and oxygen saturation will be measured while you sleep. Any apneas or hypopneas (partially blocked breathing) will be recorded. After the study, the doctor will evaluate your data and advise you on your specific situation in a few days.
Another fatigue causing illness that is often missed is gluten sensitivity. Gluten sensitivity can cause symptoms that affect the brain, the muscles the skin, the digestive system, and the bones. The offending protein in wheat, rye and barley is collectively called gluten. It is this portion that usually causes a gluten intolerance or sensitivity. This sensitivity can manifest as a skin rash, bloating, indigestion, nausea, and even gait disturbances. It also can cause malabsorption, affecting muscles and bones from lack of calcium, magnesium and vitamin D. In some people it can trigger migraines, while others have terrible fatigue and muscle weakness. The immune system is often affected, making you more vulnerable to respiratory infections and other illnesses. In some people, the malabsorption of B12 can cause numbness and tingling of the hands and feet, and even lead to anemia. Muscle and joint pain are also common. Depression, panic attacks and irritability are frequent. Many of the symptoms overlap with those of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. If a gluten sensitivity is the actual underlying cause of YOUR fatigue, then you may be able to eliminate it with a gluten free diet. There are antibody tests available to determine if you have IGA or IGG antibodies to gluten. If you do, then a gluten free diet may be your answer to getting well.
Disclaimer: Information in this article is not intended to treat or diagnose illness. It should not be substituted for medical advice. If you think you might have any of these illnesses please contact your medical provider.