Are you just tired or is it chronic fatigue syndrome?

Everyone feels tired now and then. But, after a good night’s sleep, most people feel refreshed and ready to face a new day. If you continue to feel tired for weeks, it may be a sign of a problem. Sometimes, fatigue can be the first sign that something is wrong in your body. For example, people with rheumatoid arthritis, a painful condition that affects the joints, often complain of fatigue. People with cancer may feel fatigued from the disease, treatments or both. Many medical problems and treatments can add to fatigue. These include:

  • Anemia
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, thyroid disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Depression
  • Having medical treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation, or recovering from major surgery
  • Infections
  • Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders
  • Stress
  • Taking certain medications such as antidepressants, antihistamines and medicines for nausea and pain
  • Untreated pain and diseases like fibromyalgia

More than tired

For most people, management of habits or health problems related to their fatigue usually resolves the problem. However, tens of thousands may be suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or ME/CFS, this is a condition in which extreme fatigue lasts 6 months or longer and is not related to other diseases or conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 836,000 to 2.5 million Americans have CFS and about 90 percent have not been diagnosed.

People with CFS may not appear ill, but their condition makes them unable to do their normal daily activities like care for themselves, work or participate in family or social life. In addition to severe fatigue, symptoms of CFS can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Pain
  • Problems with thinking and concentrating
  • Sleep problems
  • Sore throat
  • Tender lymph nodes
  • Worsening symptoms after any physical or mental activity called Post-exertional malaise (PEM)

The exact cause of CFS is unknown and there is no specific test to diagnose it. There is also no cure or approved treatment for CFS. That’s why it is vital to work with your healthcare provider if you suspect you have CFS or have already been diagnosed with the condition. If you are experiencing CFS symptoms, your healthcare provider will have to rule out other reasons or diseases as the cause of your fatigue with a thorough medical examination. If you are diagnosed with CFS, you and your healthcare provider will have to work on a plan to treat or manage your symptoms. For example, you may need help developing healthy sleep habits or learning new strategies for doing activities that conserve your energy.

Chronic fatigue syndrome can happen to anyone. If you are having a problem with fatigue that has lasted for six months or longer, it is important that you make an appointment to see your healthcare provider.