Chronic fatigue syndrome: What are the signs, symptoms?

Woman in a bed sick

More people may have chronic fatigue syndrome than originally thought,

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it believes that 3.3 million people have the condition and that the number has grown because of long COVID, The Associated Press reported.

Dr. Elizabeth Unger said that CFS “is not a rare illness. Unger is one of the CDC’s report authors.

The study was done on 57,000 U.S. adults in 2021 and 2022, asking if a doctor had ever told them they had CFS or myalgic encephalomyelitis. Of those asked 1.3% said yes and when adjusted to the country’s overall population that translated to 3.3 million, the AP reported.

Researchers also found that the gap between men and women who have been diagnosed has lessened and that there was little difference between white and Black populations, while a higher percentage of poorer people said they had it when compared to people who were considered affluent. All that to say that while it had been perceived as a “rich white woman’s disease,” according to the AP, it isn’t, and it affects people across income, gender and race.

The previous beliefs may have been skewed because those who had been treated for CFS have “traditionally tend to have a little more access to health care, and maybe are a little more believed when they say they’re fatigued and continue to be fatigued and can’t go to work,” Dr. Brayden Yellman said, according to the AP. Yellman is a specialist at the Bateman Horne Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The signs and symptoms of CFS include six months of severe exhaustion not eased by bed rest, but more than just being tired.

The fatigue can be severe, not caused by an unusually difficult activity and wasn’t an issue before developing the fatigue, meaning it hasn’t been part of a person’s entire life.

People with CFS may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

To be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, a person must also show signs of problems with thinking and memory, and worsening symptoms when sitting up or standing such as becoming lightheaded, dizzy, weak or faint. Only one of the two additional issues need to be diagnosed along with the fatigue.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Tender lymph nodes
  • Sore throat
  • Digestive issues
  • Chills, night sweats
  • Allergies or sensitivities
  • Muscle weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat

The CDC said there is no cure or approved treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome. Some of the symptoms, however, can be treated and may bring some relief.

There is also no blood test or scan to get a quick diagnosis or even a reason someone can develop the condition, the AP reported. Some research has shown that it could be the body’s overreaction to an infection or something else that kicked the immune system into overdrive.

Yellman said that there is a belief that long COVID and CFS are the same thing. Long COVID is when people have a coronavirus infection but still have chronic health issues weeks, months or years after the initial infection. The symptoms were the same in many people when compared to CFS.

Yellman said that long COVID is more accepted by doctors and diagnosed quicker, the AP said.

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