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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Information

We all get tired. Many of us at times have felt depressed. But the mystery known as chronic fatigue syndrome is not like the normal ups and downs we experience in everyday life. The early sign of this illness is a strong and noticeable fatigue that comes on suddenly and often comes and goes or never stops. You feel too tired to do normal activities or are easily exhausted with no apparent reason. Unlike the mind fog of a serious hangover, to which researchers have compared Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, the profound weakness of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome does not go away with a few good nights of sleep. Instead, it slyly steals your energy and vigor over months and sometimes years.


How Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Begins and Its Symptoms

For many people, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome begins after a bout with a cold, bronchitis, hepatitis, or an intestinal bug. For some, it follows a bout of infectious mononucleosis, or mono, which temporarily saps the energy of many teenagers and young adults. Often, people say that their illnesses started during a period of high stress. In others, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome develops more gradually, with no clear illness or other event starting it.

Unlike flu symptoms, which usually go away in a few days or weeks, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome symptoms either hang on or come and go frequently for more than six months. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Tender lymph nodes
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Inability to concentrate

Who Gets Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was once stereotyped as a new "yuppie flu" because those who sought help for and caused scientific interest in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the early 1980s were mainly well-educated, well-off women in their thirties and forties. Similar illnesses, known by different names, however, date back at least to the late 1800s. The modern stereotype arose. Since then, doctors have seen the syndrome in people of all ages, races, and social and economic classes from several countries around the world.

Still, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is diagnosed two to four times more often in women than in men, possibly because of biological, psychological, and social influences. For example,

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome may have a gender difference similar to diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus and multiple sclerosis, which affect more women than men.
  • Women may be more likely than men to talk with their doctors about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome-like symptoms.
  • Some members of the medical community and the public do not know about or are skeptical of the syndrome.
  • An increasingly diverse patient group will likely emerge as more doctors see Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as a real disorder.

How Many People Have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Because there is no specific laboratory test or clinical sign for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, no one knows how many people this illness affects. CDC estimates, however, that as many as 500,000 people in the United States have a Chronic Fatigue Syndrome-like condition.

What Causes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

While no one knows what causes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, for more than a century, doctors have reported seeing illnesses similar to it. In the l860s, Dr. George Beard named the syndrome neurasthenia because he thought it was a nervous disorder with weakness and fatigue. Since then, health experts have suggested other explanations for this baffling illness.

  • Iron-poor blood (anemia)
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Environmental allergy
  • A body wide yeast infection (candidiasis)

In the mid-1980s, the illness became labeled "chronic EBV" when laboratory clues led scientists to wonder whether the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) might be causing this group of symptoms. New evidence soon cast doubt on the theory that EBV could be the only thing causing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. High levels of EBV antibodies (disease-fighting proteins) have now been found in some healthy people as well as in some people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Likewise, some people who don’t have EBV antibodies, and who thus have never been infected with the virus, can show Chronic Fatigue Syndrome symptoms.

Modified 3-10-04
Information compiled from the National Institutes of Health


This web site is intended for your own informational purposes only. No person or entity associated with this web site purports to be engaging in the practice of medicine through this medium. The information you receive is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a physician or other health care professional. If you have an illness or medical problem, contact your health care provider.


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