Thursday, September 27, 2007

Healthy Mind and Body: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Let me say at the onset I am not a doctor, but the health issue discussed in this issue is an important one for many people.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS, also known as ME), is a severe, debilitating condition consisting of a number of different physical, physiological, neurological and psychiatric symptoms including:

  • Severe fatigue, especially after exercise, and a greatly reduced ability to perform any type of physical exertion.
  • Sleeping problems, such as insomnia, feeling sleepy all the time or having a desynchronized body clock.
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety attacks.
  • Reduced immune function and susceptibility to illness, particularly viral infections.
  • Constant sore throat.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Problems regulating heart rate, blood pressure and blood volume, as well as arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation.
  • Digestive problems, lack of appetite and nausea.
  • Memory and cognition problems.
  • Hypersensitivity to light and sound.
  • Problems regulating body temperature.
  • Tinnitus.
  • Vertigo.
  • Headaches.
  • Unexplained weight gain.
  • Emotional lability (suddenly changing emotions).

Recovery from CFS, when it does occur, is generally long-term and gradual. One treatment for CFS that have been fairly successful is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which addresses psychological attitudes to the illness, and graded exercise therapy, which aims to gradually increase physical activity. However, even these treatments do not help everyone who has CFS, and they tend to be not much better than simply doing nothing at all.

The treatments that tend to work best for curing CFS can be divided into three categories: psychological, changes in lifestyle and the placebo effect. All three types of treatment ultimately work in the same way, with the psychology of the patient determining the effectiveness of any particular treatment. In many cases it is probably the act of doing the treatment that results in recovery, rather than any actual benefit from the treatment itself.

Purely psychological treatments, such as CBT and counselling, tend not be very effective, as they tend to focus on areas such as emotional problems which are not necessarily a significant factor in many cases. In the lifestyle category, many patients find that getting a new job or changing their career to something that they really enjoy results in curing their CFS symptoms.

In terms of the placebo effect, many dubious alternative therapies that rely on it for their effectiveness have resulted in people completely recovering from CFS. Treatments that have worked include anti-candida diets, kinesiology, food intolerance diets, as well as many others. It should be pointed out that these were not patients who had mild symptoms; many of these people were bed-ridden and had highly debilitating physical and mental symptoms, all of which were completely cured by apparently trivial treatments.

Managing stress in your life is important all the time; even when you don't appear to be overly stressed.

More information.

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