Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in Women: An Essential Guide

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a medical condition that is manifested in the form of long-term fatigue and other symptoms that compromises a woman’s quality of life and limits her ability to carry out normal day to day tasks. It can make you feel so tired that you feel you cannot perform daily, normal activities. Experts suggest that chronic fatigue syndrome has no known cause and can only be diagnosed after recognizing major signs and symptoms over a period of time and by the process of elimination, and then these signs can be treated.

How is it diagnosed?

There are no particular tests to diagnose CFS in a woman. Because of this, many women today have trouble accepting that their symptoms point to CFS, and people generally bypass it as tiredness, fatigue, or something that comes with the fast-paced life that most of us lead. It is very important to have a doctor that you can trust, people around you that believe your tiredness is real and tangible, and not just “in your head”. “You need to chill out” is not the answer most of the time, but that’s the standard answer to most women. The symptoms of CFS are your body’s reaction to certain factors, and cannot be ignored.

Who is most affected?

Studies on CFS and the contributing data suggest women between 25 - 40 years of age are more susceptible to developing CFS. Though it is rarely found in children, it may occur in adolescent teenage girls, who develop it after having flu-like illness. There is no generic cause for CFS, but in most women, CFS occurs after a viral illness or follows a major physical or emotional trauma. The symptoms also fluctuate. Doctors believe that CFS can develop suddenly or creep up on you gradually. They also suggest that symptoms are worse at the beginning, and in the course of time, a woman might feel like she’s recovering only to have a relapse and feel worse again. Women who juggle between work and homemaking can continue their daily routine, but feel unusually tired afterwards. In severe cases, women have trouble getting out of bed, completing even the most minimal chores, and need help with basic activities.

What are the signs?

1.     An occurrence of severe fatigue that lasts for six or more consecutive months, is unrelated to medical conditions or physical activities, and does not alleviate by resting.

2.     A significant drop in maintaining the previous exertion levels and lifestyle, where post any physical activity an exertional malaise leads to extreme exhaustion and even illness.

3.     Constant and unexpected muscle/multiple joints pain.

4.      The most common and prolonged symptom is complaints about headaches of various varieties, and greater extremity.

5.     When forgetting things, constantly having to concentrate to remember and often unable to do so, and suffering from brain fog.

6.     Difficulty in maintaining a concrete position, sudden episodes of dizziness, losing one’s centre of gravity or fainting spells. Even an aversion to light that leads to blurring or pain. 

7.     Broken sleep where you wake up with chills or night sweats and a complete loss of sleep that becomes insomnia over time.

8.     This syndrome can also initiate depression due to the inability to maintain a previous lifestyle, and can give birth to mood swings, anxiety and frequent panic attacks.

What is the treatment?

1.     Though CFS cannot be cured, the treatment can help control or reduce existing symptoms.

2.     Doctors maintain light, gentle exercises regularly, but moderately, can help in reducing CFS symptoms. They recommend therapeutic exercises like light aerobics, walking for a minimum of 30 minutes, swimming or riding a bicycle.

3.     Cochrane Review, in 2008, concluded that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helped in reducing the signs of CFS, but also cautioned that the benefits diminish after the completion of the therapy. Doctors believe that it can be considered as secondary treatment, but not as the primary method of helping with CFS.

4.     CFS brings exhaustion after physical exertion therefore, adjusting your schedule, designating work, and breaking it up and stretching it over time, can lead an advantageous use of your energy.

5.     Keeping a diary and noting down when you feel drained and energised can help in tracing a pattern, and adjusting your physical activities around that pattern.

6.     Improving your sleep pattern can alleviate symptoms like dizziness, aversion to light, blinding spells and unexpected headaches.

7.     Avoid alcohol, caffeine and smoking, as these habits disrupt your hormonal functions and sleeping cycle.

8.     A balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, grains, fish, meat and low-fat diary products help with providing your body with the required amounts of calcium and Vitamin D, and also alleviate irritable bowel syndrome.

9.     Antiviral and immunological therapies are seen as beneficial, but should be consulted with a doctor due to their side-effects.

About the Author

Neha Ramneek Kapoor

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