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The hidden battle: understanding Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By Jenny Brooks, Senior Practitioner at The Dr Libby Clinic.

In modern life, where the pace rarely slows, the term “exhaustion” has been casually woven into our daily lexicon. Yet, there lies a profound difference between the tiredness felt after a day’s labour and the often misunderstood condition known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). What I get asked most is how do I know if the exhaustion I feel is becoming chronic fatigue?

Let’s first establish that CFS is not just tiredness or intermittent levels of exhaustion. Far from mere lethargy, someone experiencing CFS tends to find every task – no matter how small – insurmountable. They’ll need to have a rest after taking a shower or dropping the kids to school. Doing the groceries may end with a sore throat or the simple act of hanging washing will leave muscles aching.

Diagnosing CFS

CFS is an illness characterised by multifactorial symptoms and causes, making it a chameleon of disorders. It manifests as a dysfunction of the central nervous system, impacting mood and affecting sleep, resulting in pain, neurocognitive ability, and fundamentally, fatigue. This variability in symptoms renders CFS challenging to diagnose as there is no specific test. It tends to be first considered after ruling other illnesses out. Nevertheless, the growing prevalence of CFS has necessitated a clinical framework for understanding and addressing it.

Diagnosing CFS involves identifying a constellation of symptoms persisting for more than six months, including unexplained fatigue that’s not alleviated by rest, muscle pain, impaired memory, and more. This illness often leaves individuals grappling with severe cognitive disruptions – up to 85% report difficulties in processing information, concentration, and memory, all intertwined with physical discomfort.

Tracing the roots

CFS doesn’t emerge from a vacuum. It often follows a labyrinth of causative factors, with a significant proportion of cases traced back to infections – viral or bacterial. Stress, sleep deprivation, and exposure to toxins also play critical roles in the genesis of CFS. Understanding these triggers is crucial for recovery, hinting at a path tailored to the origin of one’s illness.

The journey to recovery

Recovery from CFS unfolds in three stages: moving from depletion to boosting cellular energy systems, and eventually addressing broader health issues specific to the individual. This journey is as diverse as the sufferers themselves, necessitating a bespoke approach. Uncovering how the illness first began will determine the path to recovery.

The cornerstone is commonly stress management, an endeavour easier said than done in a society that glorifies perpetual motion. For someone with CFS, recovery demands a re-evaluation of one’s priorities and boundaries across all life facets, from work to social engagements, movement to daily activities. Sleep hygiene, focused attention on single tasks, nutritional adjustments, and hydration also form the pillars of a recovery strategy. Additionally, nutritional supplements, under professional guidance, can offer significant benefits or sufferers can simply start by removing stimulants such as coffee and refined sugars, alongside a focus of eating food (real food), not junk.

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