What is it?
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a debilitating illness characterized by severe fatigue lasting six months or longer that does not improve with rest, and often worsens either immediately or within 24 hours of physical exertion. Debilitating for many CFS sufferers means not even being able to perform the most basic of personal care functions: getting out of bed, brushing their teeth, getting dressed, eating, having a bath. During these times a CFS patient is completely reliant on other people to take care of them and their household.
It is one of the hardest conditions to diagnose because, aside from the fatigue following physical exertion, its symptoms are also characteristic of other illnesses, which are usually ruled out before testing for CFS.
How Common is it?
Chronic fatigue syndrome is also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS). It is estimated that 1 million Americans have CFS, and 80% of those identified are not receiving appropriate medical care. “Researchers at DePaul University estimate that every year CFS costs the U.S. economy $17-24 billion” (www.cfids.org). It is more prevalent than lung cancer and AIDS (Carruthers/van de Sande), and can strike people of all ages, races, ethnic origins and socio-economic groups. It is twice as prevalent in women as in men. After 25 years of more than 5,000 studies, there is still no known definitive cause, diagnostic test, or universally recognized or accepted treatment.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The fatigue in chronic fatigue syndrome is more than just being tired. It is characterized as a bone-deep fatigue, profound exhaustion, poor stamina, that does not resolve with rest and persists, either constantly or recurringly, over 6 months or more. Fatigue can be a symptom associated with many physical and psychological conditions, but when it is so prolonged without letting up and is aggravated by physical exertion, investigation will tend toward CFS.