What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

While the disorder is not yet well understood, chronic fatigue syndrome is to varying degrees debilitating for the many it afflicts.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a little-understood condition that causes severe fatigue in those afflicted, to the extent that social and occupational efforts suffer. Often its onset occurs after a bout with mononucleosis, influenza or other illnesses, but connections with viral or bacterial infection are ill-understood at this time, save that they are sometimes reported. CFS is not in itself an infectious disease.

Poor understanding of the condition should not be understood to mean that it is imaginary, though it may mean that some individuals take it as an opportunity for self-misdiagnosis. Those who suffer from CFS find it highly difficult to function, and they may suffer severely financially and personally from its effects.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is defined in part as the experience of a new, exceptionally severe fatigue that lasts more than six months, unsated by rest. It is marked in part by its interference with normal activity, including work, school, and relationships, and it may occur gradually or may have a quick onset. It is easily confused with numerous psychological phenomena, especially among adolescents. Depression is the most commonly noted psychological disorder that can produce similar symptoms, and as it is such a common condition, especially among adolescents, the two are frequently confused and may be subject to mutual misdiagnosis. The emphasis of chronic fatigue syndrome upon its physiological symptoms must be noted, as though fatigue may be one symptom of psychological depression, its causes can in many cases clearly be separated from the physical. It may not be entirely uncommon (nor unrecommended) for psychological evaluation to be considered for those believed to be afflicted by chronic fatigue syndrome, if only to rule out the possibility of misdiagnosis. It is of especial importance, as well, that the patient help in the process of determining which is the true cause of the symptoms, as a misdiagnosis is not beneficial to anyone; even though those afflicted with depression may prefer a purely physiological explanation.

More obvious physical symptoms include difficulty in concentration, including memory loss and confusion unusual to the individual's norm before the contraction of the illness. Some physiological effects resembling flu symptoms may be noted, including sore throat and lymph centers, joint and muscle pain, and headaches, as well as the more obvious severe fatigue. These last the term of the condition, which is more than six months, by definition, but which can extend to a length of many years or which can be indefinite in duration.

Medical explanations for the condition vary and are the subject of much debate. Some speculation exists that it may be the result of immune, nervous, or endocrine abnormalities in response to infection, stress and other stimuli. While its symptoms are rather vague and causes uncertain, it has become relative consensus that it is in fact a real illness, though some continue to debate the matter. The results of research on the subject are commonly found in scientific and medical journals, and understanding of the condition progresses daily.

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