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Nasty Infectious Diseases You Want To Avoid - Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Updated on November 30, 2008

 Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a group of symptoms including fatigue, weakness, poor concentration and memory, once derisively dismissed as a new "yuppie flu." Contrary to popular notions, however, the disease is not new; clinical reports of the condition have appeared for more than 100 years. The modern stereotype of "yuppie flu" began because those who sought help in the early 1980s were primarily affluent, well-educated women in their 30s and 40s. Since then, however, physicians have realized the disease strikes those of all ages, races, and social classes in countries around the world, although it is still diagnosed two to four times more often in women than in men.

In the 1860s, it was called "neurasthenia," and considered to be a neurosis characterized by weakness and fatigue. In the 1960s it was called "Icelander's disease." Since then, physicians have blamed the symptoms variously on "iron-poor blood" (anemia), low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), allergies, or a body-wide yeast infection (candidiasis). In the mid-1980s, the disease was believed to be caused by the Epstein-Barr virus, after scientists found signs of the EBV antibodies in affected patients. Since then, scientists realized that the EBV is so common, it is actually found in the blood of many healthy Americans, while some people with no EBV antibodies have the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.

The degree to which patients are disabled varies widely. Some can still function at home and work, but others become severely disabled and can't perform many of the routine activities of daily living. The total number of affected people in the United States is unknown. In other countries, CFS is known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, post-viral fatigue syndrome, chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome.

Cause - No one knows the cause of CFS, and no virus or antibody has been identified. This has made it more difficult to determine how many people actually have the illness. Based on the first three years of an ongoing surveillance study in four U.S. cities, the Centers for Disease Control estimates the minimum rate of CFS in the United States to be 4 to 10 cases per 100,000 adults. Recent research at Johns Hopkins suggests that at least some CFS sufferers may in fact have a condition in which inadequate upperbody blood pressure causes fainting spells. For these patients, treatment with drugs and high-sodium diets to raise blood pressure resolved the CFS symptoms. In one of the most recent studies, 16 of 23 people with CFS were found to also have this low-blood-pressure problem. After treatment with salt supplementation and drugs, nine patients were completely recovered and seven others had marked improvement in symptoms. This plus many other remedies have been tried. Scientists have also studied a range of other possible causes, including Epstein-Barr and other herpes infections, the yeast organism candida albicans, and immune system or hormone regulation problems. Many of these problems are found among CFS patients, but scientists have not yet been able to establish any of them as the source of CFS.

Symptoms - To be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, a patient must have an unexplained persistent fatigue that is not caused by exertion or alleviated by rest; it must severely curtail activities. In addition, the patient must have any four of the following symptoms for at least six months that were not present before the fatigue: impaired memory or concentration; sore throat; tender lymph nodes in neck or under arms; muscle pain; multi-joint pain; new headache; sleep that isn't refreshing; and malaise following exercise. Many of these symptoms mimic the flu, but the flu goes away while CFS symptoms persist or recur frequently for more than six months. Many people first notice symptoms after an acute infection (cold, bronchitis, hepatitis, mononucleosis, or intestinal flu). The course of the disease varies from one patient to the next. For most, the disease hits a plateau early on and ebbs and flows thereafter. Some get better, but are not completely well. Others spontaneously recover.

Treatment - Although no specific treatment has been identified for CFS, there have been anecdotal reports of success with small numbers of patients using a range of treatment, including antiviral drugs, antidepressants, or drugs that boost the immune system. Many physicians prescribe tricyclic antidepressants, since these drugs help people with fibromyalgia (a disease much like CFS). Some patients improve with benzodiazepines (a class of drug used to treat anxiety and sleep problems).


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    • Lady LaShonda profile image

      Lady LaShonda 9 years ago from Atlantic City, New Jersey

      Great Information. I needed this one. I just thought i was tired all the time. This is something to take to my physician about.