What is chronic fatigue syndrome, exactly?
As the name suggests, it’s an exhausting illness: People with chronic fatigue suffer an unexplained and extreme feeling of tiredness that can last for many months, and often years.
“Their ability to do functional activities—activities of daily living—are impacted dramatically,” says Betsy Keller, PhD, a researcher and professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at Ithaca College.
Until recently, there was a widespread misconception—even among doctors—that the disorder was psychological, or worse, imagined. But that notion was put to rest by a government panel of experts in 2015 that defined chronic fatigue as a “serious, debilitating condition” with clear physical symptoms.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee estimated that as many as 2.5 million Americans have the illness—and at least 84% of them haven’t yet been diagnosed. “Patients often struggle with their illness for years before receiving a diagnosis,” the panel wrote in a report that recommended new diagnostic criteria and called for more research on the mysterious disease.
While there is no cure for chronic fatigue, its symptoms can be treated with various drugs and therapies—from sleep aids and pain relievers to gentle exercise and counseling. “We see people that are managing their lives reasonably well,” says Chris Snell, PhD, chair of the scientific advisory committee to the Workwell Foundation, which is dedicated to chronic fatigue research. However, he says, early diagnosis and treatment may be key to recovery. “I suspect the longer you’ve had the illness, the more effect it’s had on your system.”
Read on to learn more about the syndrome—and signs that it’s time to get long-lasting fatigue checked out by a doctor. continue reading…