Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS/CFS/ME)

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), known by many names, including Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS).  Also referred to as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME/MCS) though in some circles (ME/MCS) is known as its own distinct neurological disease. (see info below)  Elements of debilitating fatigue can accompany many conditions, and autoimmune diseases, such as Ankylosing Spondylitis a form of Autoimmune Arthritis, Lupus and syndromes such as Fibromyalgia. CFIDS/CFS may also share overlapping symptoms, as well as possess its own unique and very distinct set of symptoms, resulting from a compromised immune system.  CFIDS/CFS is a complex and debilitating chronic illness that affects the brain and multiple body systems. It is usually categorized by overwhelming, physically limiting and persistent fatigue that does not resolve with a good night’s rest. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is it’s own invisible chronic illness and usually requires assessment & treatment by a Doctor of Internal Medicine. There are also natural and alternatives means to managing this disorder which are shared here on The Positive Pear.  Individuals may also have only Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, without the presence of other chronic conditions or diseases.

Symptoms List for CFIDS/CFS 

 1. Unexplained, persistent or relapsing chronic fatigue that is of new or definite onset; that is not relieved by rest; results in substantial reduction in previous levels of occupational, educational, social, or personal activities.

2.  Four or more of the following symptoms at the same time, all of which have persisted or recurred for six or more consecutive months after the onset of the fatigue:

  • Short-term memory or concentration problems severe enough to greatly affect occupational, social, educational, or personal activities
  • Sore throat
  • Tender lymph nodes in the neck or underarm area
  • Muscle pain
  • Multiple joint pain without redness or swelling
  • Headaches of a new type or severity
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Worsening of symptoms after exertion even up to a day or two later.

Other Important CFIDS Symptoms

In addition to the 1994 CDC diagnostic list, there are additional symptoms of note. Onset of the illness is often sudden (a few days to a few weeks.) Common symptoms with their incidences are on the following list compiled from information provided by famous CFS/CFIDS/ME clinicians.

Most Common Symptoms of CFIDS/CFS/ME

  • Exhaustion, made worse by physical exercise (100%)
  • Low-grade fever in early stages (60-95%)
  • Recurrent flu-like illness (75%)
  • Frequent pharyngitis (sore throats) (50-75%)
  • Joint and muscle pain (65%)
  • Severe muscle weakness (40-70%)
  • Stiffness (50-60%)
  • Post-exertional fatigue & flu-like symptoms (50-60%)
  • Multiple sensitivities to medicines, foods, and chemicals (40-60%)
  • Severe nasal & other allergies (often with worsening of previous mild allergies) (40-60%)
  • Frequently recurring, difficult to treat respiratory infections (40-60%)
  • Dyspnea (labored breathing or hunger for air) on exertion
  • Painful lymph nodes (especially on neck and under arms) (30-40%)

Neurological Symptoms

  • Sleep disorders & unrefreshing sleep (50-90%)
  • Headaches (35-85%)
  • Visual blurring (50-60%)
  • Intolerance of bright lights
  • Parasthesias (numbness or tingling feelings) (30-50%)
  • Dizziness/ Lightheadedness (30-50%)
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Impaired cognition (50-85%)
    • Attentional difficulties
    • Calculation difficulties
    • Memory disturbance
    • Spatial disorientation
    • Saying the wrong word

 Other Symptoms

  • Worsening of premenstrual symptoms (70% of women)
  • Nocturia (excessive urination during the night) (50-60%)
  • Tachycardia (abnormal rapid heart action) (40-50%)
  • Chest pain (25-40%)
  • Cough (30-40%)
  • Weight gain (50-70%)
  • Nausea, especially in earlier stages (50-60%)
  • Diarrhea, intestinal gas or irritable bowel (50%)
  • Intolerance of alcohol
  • Night sweats (30-50%)
  • Dry eyes (30-40%)
  • Dry mouth (30-40%)
  • Rash (30-40%)
  • Frequent canker sores (30-40%)
  • Herpes simplex or shingles (20%)
  • Symptoms worsened by extremes in temperature
  • (Statistics compiled from data by: Paul Cheney MD, Anthony Komaroff MD, Charles Lapp MD, Daniel Peterson MD)

Managing CFIDS/CFS/ME

There is no known cause or cure for CFIDS/CFS/ME, treatment is targeted to relieve specific symptoms, such as pain and sleep disorder. Experienced CFIDS/ME clinicians treat patients using both conventional and alternative approaches.  Important lifestyle changes include: increased rest, decreased and carefully paced activity (“living in your energy envelope”), exercise only as tolerated, stress control, balanced nutrition, improved sleep, and identifying effective coping strategies. Patient and family support groups, as well as counseling, can be very helpful. It is vital to find a physician who understands CFIDS/ME, and is willing to develop an individualized treatment program.

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis- Is characterised by a range of neurological symptoms and signs, muscle pain with intense physical or mental exhaustion, relapses, and specific cognitive disabilities.  MYALGIC (muscle pain) + ENCEPHALO (relating to the brain) + MYEL (relating to the spinal cord)  + ITIS (inflammation) = MYALGIC ENCEPHALOMYELITIS  (brain and spinal cord inflammation with muscle pain)

(ME Symptoms are very similar to those of CFIDS with a few difference)

Muscle symptoms: Exercise intolerance and post-exertional malaise, Pain/myalgia & Fasciculations (visible twitching of the muscles which sometimes blepharospasm/eyelid twitching)

Brain and Central Nervous System: Cognitive dysfunction (problems with short-term memory, concentration & maintaining attention) Clumsiness, disequilibrium, word finding abilities. Problems with controlling the autonomic nervous system resulting in palpitations, sweating episodes & symptoms associated with low blood pressure/postural hypotension ie; vasovagal, fainting

Immune System Abnormalities:  sore throats, enlarged glands, joint pains, headaches, problems with temperature control and intermittent flu-like feelings.

Other Symptoms: Sleep disturbances (often increased requirements at the onset followed by an inability to obtain a full night’s sleep), alcohol intolerance (a very characteristic feature, particularly in the early period of illness) and irritable bowel symptomatology (IBS) mood swings and features of clinical depression as time goes on.

ME/CFS symptoms tend to fluctuate in severity throughout the course of a day and people often report that they have both ‘good days’ and ‘bad days’, although the term ‘good’ is often used in a relative sense. The illness nearly always results in a severe reduction in a person’s ability to cope with all aspects of normal daily living (i.e. social and sporting activities, employment, household tasks). Relapses or exacerbations are often precipitated by infections, excessive physical or mental stress, general anaesthetics and surgical operations, and extremes of temperature.

Resources: List courtesy of CFIDSMA Division, The CFIDS Association of America, ME International Consensus CriteriaNAME: The National Alliance for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, Awareness: May 12th – International ME/CFS & FM Awareness Day, The Positive Pear Articles: Holistic Health & Whole Body Wellness for Chronic Fatigue SyndromeNatural Pain Management, Natural Stress Management Techniques  ” Hello 2012 & Hello to Coping with….& CFIDS!”

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