Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) is a complex, multi-systemic disorder affecting from 1-4 million people in the United States and approximately 200,000 people in Canada. ME/CFS typically costs families approximately $25,000 a year in lost wages and medical costs. Total costs to the US economy range from 19-25 billion dollars a year.
Who Gets Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS)?
While people of every age, sex and socioeconomic class get CFS, middle-aged women appear to be at the highest risk. Some evidence suggests that people with lower incomes also have a higher risk of getting this disease.
Some researchers believe increased rates of physical and/or psychological stress may increase ones risk of getting CFS. Many CFS patients cannot, however, identify a trigger for their illness. Chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) does not appear to be contagious but some evidence suggests there is a hereditary component to the disease and that it can run in some families.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Only approximately 20% of chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) patients in the U.S. have been diagnosed. Because no laboratory tests unique to the disease have been found patients are diagnosed using symptoms and by eliminating other diseases. According to the International Definition (1994) CFS is characterized by unexplained severe fatigue lasting for over six months that is not substantially alleviated by rest.
Chronic fatigue syndrome patients must also display four or more of the following symptoms; post-exertional malaise, unrefreshing sleep, memory and/or concentration problems, muscle and/or joint pains, headaches, sore throat and tender lymph nodes.
Because diagnosing ME/CFS requires ruling out numerous other diseases (thyroid disease, multiple sclerosis, depression, etc.) that could cause similar symptoms this disease can only be diagnosed by a physician. Patients commonly also display a wide array of other symptoms.
Recovery rates appear to be highest in the first two years of the disease. A significant percentage of CFS patients improve over time and a smaller number decline. While total recoveries do occur they do not appear to be common. Recovery can occur, however, even in patients who have had this disease for decades. Studies on mortality are rare but CFS does not appear to be associated with increased mortality.
- Dig Deeper! Check out Prognosis
Causes of CFS
A wide variety of immune, endocrine, cardiovascular and central nervous abnormalities have been reported in CFS. Among the causes suggested for CFS include damage to parts of the brain governing cognition, memory, mood, energy and perception, an altered stress response, an unbalanced immune system, a hidden chronic infection, dysfunction of the interferon pathway, rampant free radical production, abnormal sympathetic nervous system activity, cardiac dysfunction and others.
- Dig Deeper: Causes of CFS
There is no cure for CFS but physicians employ a wide variety of pharmaceutical drugs, alternative therapies, nutritional aids and coping strategies to ameliorate the symptoms of CFS.
- Dig Deeper: Treating CFS