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What is chronic fatigue syndrome? Symptoms, causes and treatment

door Floris Biesemans op Feb 20, 2023

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complex condition characterized by extreme fatigue that cannot be explained by any underlying medical condition. The fatigue may worsen with physical or mental activity, but improves little or not at all with rest. CFS can make it difficult to perform daily activities, so it can quickly have a huge impact on your quality of life. In this blog post, we discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment options of CFS.

Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome

CFS is a multifaceted condition that affects different people in different ways. Some common symptoms include:

  • Extreme fatigue that lasts for at least six months and does not improve with rest.
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sore throat
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck or armpits
  • Unexplained muscle or joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Non-refreshing sleep
  • Extreme exhaustion after physical or mental activity
The clearest sign of chronic fatigue syndrome is a daily fatigue that is not caused by exertion, and does not or hardly improve with rest. Together with the family doctor, it can be investigated whether it is indeed CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome).

Causes of chronic fatigue syndrome

The exact cause of CFS is unknown. However, several theories are proposed in the literature, including:
  • Viral infections: Some studies suggest that CFS may be triggered by viral infections such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) or human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6).
  • Immune system dysfunction: CFS may be related to an abnormal immune system response.
  • Hormonal imbalances: Hormonal imbalances, such as too low levels of thyroid hormones, may contribute to CFS.
  • Psychological factors: Stress, anxiety and depression may play a role in the development of CFS.

Treatment options for chronic fatigue syndrome

Currently, there is no direct treatment for CFS. However, treatment options can help control symptoms, and still improve quality of life that way. Here are some examples:
  • Learning to manage stress: talking to a friend, therapist or family member is often the first step.
  • Stress-reducing techniques: yoga, meditation and deep breathing can naturally bring great improvement to patients with CFS.
  • Vitamins and supplements: targeted supplements to reduce stress and improve sleep can give a boost in the fight against CFS.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT can help people with CFS change negative thinking patterns, which can help reduce symptoms of fatigue and improve overall quality of life.
  • Graduated exercise therapy (GET): GET is a form of physical therapy that can help improve energy levels and muscle function.
  • Pacing: Pacing refers to balancing rest and activity to prevent overexertion.
  • Medications: Antidepressants and sleep medication may be prescribed to help with fatigue and sleep disorders. Note that prescription medication should always be the last option. Medications can be addictive and often have significant side effects.

Coping with chronic fatigue syndrome

Living with CFS can be difficult, and it is important to be well supported by loved ones. These can include friends, family and a health care provider. It is also important to maintain a positive mindset and try to stay as active as possible. Practicing stress-reducing techniques such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing can often help.

In short, chronic fatigue syndrome is a complex condition. It can be debilitating, making it important for sufferers to try different solutions so that progress can be made quickly. Do you still suffer from fatigue? Then read the blog "Fatigue, what can you do about being tired?".

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