Notes from the Parish Nurse - Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Man rubbing tired eyes

Myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, “is a serious, long-term illness that affects many body systems.” ( People affected by this illness often cannot partake in their usual activities, experience severe fatigue along with sleep problems, and might even be confined to bed. World-wide about 17 million people, which includes 2.5 million Americans, suffer from ME/CFS. Many people though are undiagnosed due to the complex nature of the illness. Most commonly, young to middle-aged adults are affected and women are four times more likely than men to have the illness. The occurrence of this disease often happens suddenly and can last for years.

The cause of ME/CFS is unknown, but many theories have been proposed and there could be a combination of factors. Genetics might be a factor as ME/CFS appears to run in some families. And some people are born with a higher likelihood of developing the disease. Viral or bacterial infections, physical or emotional trauma, or the body being unable to convert nutrients (fats and sugar) into energy might also be possible causes.

ME/CFS is a complicated disorder that is difficult to diagnose. No single test can confirm a diagnosis; a variety of medical tests to rule out other health problems need to be performed. There are many overlapping symptoms between illnesses and symptoms can mimic those of many other health problems. Extreme fatigue must have lasted for a least 6 months for a diagnosis to be made. Also “symptoms worsen with physical or mental activity, but don’t improve with rest.” (

Symptoms vary from person to person, and their severity fluctuates from day to day. Some symptoms associated with ME/CFS are listed below.

• Extreme fatigue and weakness, or extreme exhaustion after physical or mental exercise

• Problems with memory or thinking skills (“brain fog”), or inability to concentrate

• Insomnia, or trouble falling asleep, or unrefreshing sleep

• Muscle or joint pain

• Forgetfulness or confusion

• Tender lymph nodes, low grade fever, chills or night sweats, sore throat, or headaches

• Sensitivity to light, sounds, smells

• Depression or mood swings

• Orthostatic intolerance (light-headed, dizzy, or weak when sitting up or standing)

• Visual changes such as blurring vision or seeing spots

• Allergies and sensitivities to food or chemicals and digestive upsets

• Irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath

There is no cure for ME/CFS, but treatment focuses on symptom relief. Deep breathing, muscle relaxation, massage, and movement therapy such as stretching, yoga, or tai chi, are often found to be helpful. They can reduce stress and anxiety and promote a sense of well-being. The goal is to remain active without overdoing. A variety of medications might be prescribed depending on symptoms. They might include pain, blood pressure, heart rhythm, corticosteroids, or antidepressant medications. Dietary supplements and herbal preparations and psychotherapy and supportive counseling, could also be helpful. (