The difference between tiredness and chronic fatigue syndrome

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We’ve all had days where we seem to drag ourselves out of bed, convince ourselves we have to go to work and get home at the end of the day even more exhausted.

Most of the time our fatigue is simply a byproduct of life. Maybe we had issues going to sleep or stayed up too late to watch a movie. It could be the baby had a bad night and Mom or Dad had to rock the child most of the night.

That kind of fatigue can be expected.

But when should you begin to worry that you might be experiencing chronic fatigue syndrome? 

Nobody knows the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, a complicated disorder characterized by extreme exhaustion that can’t be explained by any underlying medical condition, according to the Mayo Clinic. Many theories exist, ranging from viral infections to psychological stress. Some experts believe chronic fatigue syndrome might be triggered by a combination of factors.

The condition is also known as systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID) or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). Sometimes it’s abbreviated as ME/CFS.

What makes chronic fatigue syndrome even more difficult to pin down is there is no single test to confirm a diagnosis, the Mayo Clinic noted. Medical tests might be needed to rule out other health problems that have similar symptoms before a doctor will diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome.

Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of memory or concentration
  • Sore throat
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
  • Unexplained muscle or joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise

People who have chronic fatigue syndrome could be overwhelmed by even normal amounts of exercise and activity. Experts say some people may be born with a predisposition for the disorder, which is then triggered by a combination of factors.

Potential triggers include:

  • Viral infections. Because some people develop chronic fatigue syndrome after having a viral infection, researchers question whether some viruses might trigger the disorder. Suspicious viruses include Epstein-Barr virus, human herpes virus 6 and mouse leukemia viruses. No conclusive link has yet been found.
  • Immune system problems. The immune systems of people who have chronic fatigue syndrome appear to be impaired slightly, but it’s unclear if this impairment is enough to actually cause the disorder
  • Hormonal imbalances. People who have chronic fatigue syndrome also sometimes experience abnormal blood levels of hormones produced in the hypothalamus, pituitary glands or adrenal glands. But the significance of these abnormalities is still unknown.

The Mayo Clinic reports factors that may increase the risk of chronic fatigue syndrome include:

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome can occur at any age, but it most commonly affects people in their 40s and 50s.
  • Women are diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome much more often than men, but it may be that women are simply more likely to report their symptoms to a doctor.
  • Difficulty managing stress may contribute to the development of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Because of the nature of the syndrome, complications could include depression, social isolation, lifestyle restrictions and increased work absences.

In general, the Mayo Clinic suggested scheduling a medical appointment if you have persistent or excessive fatigue.

 


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