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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Symptoms and treatment

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is an often debilitating collection of symptoms chiefly characterized by extreme fatigue. The feeling of exhaustion associated with CFS is not the "good" kind of tired one might feel after physical exertion like hard work. With CFS, the mental and physical fatigue are overwhelming and cannot be attributed to any apparent cause.


  • Extreme exhaustion, especially after physical or mental activity
  • Loss of memory and / or trouble concentrating
  • Sore throat
  • Slightly swollen glands in armpits or neck
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain without swelling or redness
  • New headaches
  • Difficulty sleeping

If a person suffers from four of the above symptoms for longer than six months, with no identifiable cause, he may be diagnosed with CFS.

In addition to the eight major signs of CFS, many patients also experience the following:

  • Depression
  • Bloating
  • Earache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Chest pain
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Diarrhea
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Acute sensitivity to light
  • Dizziness
  • Night sweats

CFS symptoms might last for months or even years, and they may come and go sporadically. Many doctors are not familiar with CFS. The best place to get an accurate diagnosis is with a rheumatologist. There is no one test for CFS. Instead, a doctor will first rule out other possible causes of symptoms, including systemic lupus, influenza, Lyme disease, sleep apnea and rheumatoid arthritis.

While there is no cure for chronic fatigue syndrome, several strategies can improve or even relieve many of its symptoms, such as:

  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Pacing yourself
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Using NSAIDS for pain
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • Getting mild daily exercise, especially stretching
  • Avoiding stress
  • Treating depression with SSRI drugs or tricyclic antidepressants
  • Taking antihistamines for allergy-like symptoms
  • Seeing a mental health professional for cognitive behavior therapy
  • Limiting caffeine intake
  • Using meditation
  • Joining a CFS support group (find more information at

Vitamin D and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Recent studies at the University of Wisconsin and at the State University of New York at Buffalo have linked low levels of vitamin D to a host of chronic conditions, including CFS. Researchers agree that the present recommended daily requirement of the nutrient is much lower than the amount needed to fight disease and ensure optimum health.

Sunlight causes our skin to make vitamin D naturally. With growing concerns for skin cancer, however, people are greatly limiting their exposure by using sunscreens and by wearing hats and long sleeves to avoid ultraviolet rays. Many doctors agree that we do not get enough vitamin D from the sun, especially in winter. People with dark complexions are even more at risk than fair-skinned people when it comes to sun-supplied vitamin D because their skin might produce only a tenth as much of the important vitamin as those with fairer complexions.

People with CFS need to take a vitamin D supplement every day. Also, getting a safe amount of sunlight each day will help increase the body's natural production. There's another benefit from short periods of sun exposure for those with CFS, too: sunlight helps regulate our circadian rhythms – our internal "clock" telling us when to sleep and when to be awake and active. Since sleep problems are a major concern for CFS sufferers, mild sun exposure could provide healthy sleep patterns.

By Holle Abee

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