By Quilla Watt, Integrative Naturopath
“But you don’t look sick… Maybe it’s all in your head.”
Thankfully these kind of things are being said less and less to chronic fatigue sufferers as we begin to understand more about this complex and debilitating syndrome.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) can range from mild, where you can still live a relatively normal life; to severe, where you are unable to attend school or work, and may even be housebound or bedridden.
Like fibromyalgia, which you can read about here, chronic fatigue syndrome can be challenging to both diagnose and treat. The symptoms of CFS can be very similar to fibromyalgia, thyroid disease, alcohol abuse, sleep disorders, and psychological disorders including schizophrenia and major depressive disorder.
What is chronic fatigue syndrome?
Diagnosis of CFS requires persistent, debilitating fatigue for more than six months in absence of other medical conditions capable of causing fatigue.
Along with fatigue, a diagnosis of CFS also requires the presence of four or more of the following symptoms: tender lymph nodes; muscle pain; joint pain without redness or swelling, sore throat, impaired memory and concentration, headaches, sleep disturbances, and post-exertional malaise.
Cause of chronic fatigue syndrome
Again, like fibromyalgia, the cause of CFS remains unknown. Research is pointing more and more to a combination of factors that affect people with a genetic predisposition. For some people, CFS may begin suddenly after illness, toxic exposure, severe stress, or trauma. For other people, CFS may develop and worsen slowly over a period of years.
Clinically, we see many cases of CFS that are preceded by an infection such as Epstein-Barr virus, Ross River virus, Coxsackie B virus, and cytomegalovirus.
With CFS we have to consider a range of factors that may be at play: mitochondrial energy production, immune dysfunction, thyroid problems, hormonal imbalances, digestive problems, biochemical abnormalities, and changes in blood pressure and circulation.
Managing chronic fatigue syndrome
The complex nature of CFS means that we cannot treat all CFS patients the same. Each person needs an individualised management plan that addresses the specific factors at play in their particular case. You may require a comprehensive treatment program that involves multiple health care practitioners. If you are suffering from debilitating fatigue, finding the right practitioners and creating your own integrative health care team can seem overwhelming. This is why, at The Health Lodge, we take care of putting together a health care team tailored to your needs, so that you can focus on healing without worrying about logistics and details.
A range of treatment option are available that may be beneficial in managing your health and wellness, including:
- Medical and naturopathic management: Our approach to CFS involves a tailored care plan to address the individual needs of the patient. Interventions may be targeted at addressing sleep disturbances, immune dysfunction, adrenal dysfunction, mitochondrial function, and nutritional deficiencies. Treatment may also involve identifying underlying factors that may be exacerbating your illness, including allergies, food intolerances, and stabilising blood sugars.
- Psychology: Through any illness it is important to support your psychological wellbeing. Cognitive behavioural therapy may be used to deal with negative thoughts and may help to reduce fatigue in CFS patients.
- Graded exercise therapy: A tailored exercise program that suits your needs and physical capabilities may be used to improve physical functioning and decrease fatigue. An exercise program may not be suitable to all people, and so it is important that programs are designed on a case-by-case basis.
Your integrative team of health care specialists
We believe that a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals is essential in managing all the aspects of CFS. Depending on your particular needs, your multidisciplinary team may include doctors, naturopaths, physiotherapists, acupuncturists, and psychologists. This comprehensive and holistic approach is designed to support your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.