Magazine article Herizons

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Putting Together the Pieces

Magazine article Herizons

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Putting Together the Pieces

Article excerpt

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Putting Together the Pieces.

After several years and many medical appointments, my suspicions were finally confirmed. I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), a mysterious and controversial illness. Relief was not immediately in sight, for there was no prescription, no remedy, no cure.

An estimated 20,000 Canadians are struggling with this persistent ailment. However, many more cases may not be reported or diagnosed correctly. Dr. William Reeves of teh US Centres for Disease Control believes that 70 in 100,000 Americans have CFS. Two years ago it was thought that there were only four to nine cases per 100,000.

According to the July/August 1995 newsletter of ME Canada, an organization which provides information to people with CFS, "women are affected three to seven times more often than men and that the recovery rate is estimated at 45 per cent... The Canadian government does not recognize M.E./CFS and spends nothing to find out about it."

The situation for some is desperate, however, people with CFS can do some things to help themselves. IN SEARCH OF A NAME

Back in the 1980s, when CFS was called "Yuppie Flu", the media described it as a phenomenon that hit young professionals who were very successful, worked too hard, slept too little and then subsequently burned out. In the meantime, it became obvious to the upwardly mobile.

CFS has been around for a long time, even though it was only formally recognized as an illness in 1988. Just to make matters more confusing, it has had a host of different names. In Canada and Britain, you may hear it referred to as M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). In the United States, it is often called CFIDS (Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome). Most people seem to recognize CFS more easily. SYMPTOMS

Despite varying degrees of severity from person to person, the major components of the illness appear to be extreme fatigue, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), depression, mental sluggishness and allergies. A wide range of more specific symptoms include pain and weakness of the muscles and joints, headaches, low grade fever, chronic sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, irregular sleep patterns, abnormal exhaustion after mental or physical exertion, short-term memory loss and concentration difficulties. Some of the symptoms may come and go, while others persist and offer no respite.

As well as chronic fatigue, four or more of the symptoms described above must be present and have lasted for more than six months before a diagnosis of CFS can be made by a physician. According to the revised medical definition by the US Centres for Disease Control and the National Institute of Health, the fatigue must be relapsing and unexplainable, while significantly decreasing one's usual activities.

CFS debilitates both the immune system and the central nervous system. Although some people do recover quickly, many others are ill for months and even years. Unknowing or skeptical doctors often dismiss these sick people as psychiatric cases. According to anecdotal research I've done, many people with CFS lose their jobs or experience financial hardship. The continuing stress associated with lack of treatment and long-time illness also leads many personal relationships to end. CAUSE

There are many theories about the cause of CFS. It is now thought to be triggered by a virus, infection, or an already present immune system disorder. According to Dr. Anne Mildon, a Toronto physician who treats CFS dients, CFS develops within a year or two of a stressful life event (bereavemet, separation, change of job, accident, economic difficulty, stopping substance abuse). She believes stressful life events leave the immune system vulnerable to infection.

Environmental toxins may also play a role in the breakdown of the immune system. Over a period of time, the immune system, the endocrine system and the neurological systems are all involved as the symptoms begin to emerge. …

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