Have you been feeling more tired than usual? Sure, getting older sometimes means lower energy levels, but if you are excessively fatigued, what you are experiencing might actually be more than just tiredness: it could be a medical condition. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), which was once the subject of controversy, is now recognized as a real disorder that is characterized by extreme fatigue or exhaustion that doesn’t go away even after resting. So, if you are one of the up to 2.5 million Americans who suffer from chronic fatigue, know that it is not “all in your head”; it is a serious and complex condition, and if you are experiencing symptoms of it, you should speak to your doctor so you can find ways to deal with it and live a normal life.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Explained
Chronic fatigue syndrome is not the same as simple tiredness, which is short-term and goes away after resting. CFS is a more long-term condition, which makes you feel sleepy, as well as lacking in energy and motivation, even after getting more sleep. CFS can affect anyone, but it is 2-4 times more common among older women. There is no exact known cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, but experts believe it could be triggered by viruses, a weak immune system, stress, or other factors. However the fatigue presents itself, whether it is physical, mental, or both, CFS requires treatment.
What Causes CFS?
Getting older does not mean that being fatigued everyday is normal. Experts do not know what causes CFS, but there are some potential triggers that have been linked to it, such as:
- Viral infections– The Epstein-Barr virus, human herpes virus 6, Ross River virus (RRV), and rubella virus are all linked to CFS.
- Hormonal imbalances– People who have experienced CFS have sometimes also experienced abnormal levels of hormones produced in the hypothalamus, pituitary glands or adrenal glands.
- Physical or emotional trauma– Some people report that they experienced an injury, surgery or significant emotional stress before their symptoms began.
- Weakened immune system
- Medications– If you are experiencing more fatigue than normal, certain medications you are taking might be the culprit.
Other factors that could increase your risk for CFS include:
- Genetic predisposition
- Environmental factors
Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Symptoms of CFS can be classified in two different ways: physical symptoms and mental symptoms. Physical fatigue means not having enough physical strength to perform an activity, while mental fatigue is when you do not have enough mental energy to perform an activity.
Some of the physical symptoms include:
- Muscle weakness
- Vision problems
- Frequent headaches
- Muscle pain
- Weight loss
- Frequent sore throat
Mental symptoms of fatigue include:
- Memory problems
- Lack of motivation
- Mood swings
- Slowed response times
- Reduced concentration
Diagnosing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
According to the Institute of Medicine, CFS affects anywhere from 836,000 to 2.5 million Americans, but it is estimated that 84 to 91% have yet to receive a diagnosis, possibly because there are no tests to screen for the condition. According to a 2015 Institute of Medicine report, doctors usually give a CFS diagnosis if you experience:
- A decrease in your ability to do activities at previous levels which lasts for more than 6 months, and doesn’t improve with rest.
- Worsening of symptoms after any type of activity.
- Difficulty thinking.
- Dizziness that hits when you stand up, but that is relieved by lying back down.
- Sleep that does not refresh you.
There is no specific cure for CFS, so if your doctor diagnoses you based on the above criteria, they will treat you based on your specific symptoms.
One of the best ways to prevent fatigue is to make some lifestyle changes. This includes:
- Eating nutritious foods, and focusing on eating smaller meals throughout the day to have a constant source of energy.
- Drinking enough water.
- Exercising, which can help you feel less fatigued by preventing muscle loss, providing energy, and improving your mood. Always talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program, so you can discuss with them what type of movement is right for you.
- Practice yoga, tai chi, or pick up a new hobby that will help to reduce stress.
Being tired is normal, especially as you age, but being extremely fatigued even after getting enough sleep is not normal; this is a red flag that you should consider speaking to your doctor about. Chronic fatigue is real, and can progress, leading to a decline in your physical and mental health – but it can be treated and prevented. Seek help from your doctor, and rest assured that Medicare will cover your medical expenses for this visit, or for any further visits with specialists or therapists. Be aware, though, that you will have some out-of-pocket expenses, including your deductible and coinsurance, so you should consider a Medicare Supplement Plan to help you, because the last thing you want to do is worry about money while dealing with a condition that takes a lot out of you, like CFS. A Medicare Supplement Plan will cover your out-of-pocket expenses and help you save money.
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