Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Although chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) was first named in the 1980s, it is not a new disease and has been referred to by other names since the 1700s. Yet it remains a controversial topic because, even as diagnoses increase, many people (health professionals and the public alike) doubt CFS exists or consider it a psychological ailment.
But research confirms that CFS is indeed a physical illness — just one that's not fully understood. At least 1 million people in the United States have CFS, and tens of millions more have a CFS-like condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The hallmark symptoms of CFS are overwhelming fatigue and weakness that make it extremely difficult to perform routine and daily tasks, like getting out of bed, dressing, and eating. The fatigue does not get better with bed rest. The illness can severely affect school, work, and leisure activities, and cause physical and emotional symptoms that can last for months or even years.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is more common in females than males and affects all racial and ethnic groups. CFS usually strikes people between the ages of 20 and 40, but it also occurs in teens. A CFS-like illness also has been determined to occur in kids younger than 12. The actual number of children and teens affected by CFS is unknown.
The cause of CFS is not yet known. Current research is exploring the possibility that people with CFS may have a dysfunction of the immune and central nervous systems. Scientists are also studying various metabolic abnormalities and risk factors (including genetic predisposition, age, gender, prior illness, environment, and stress) that may affect the development and course of CFS.
Some researchers have suggested that a virus causes CFS, but this hasn't been proved. At one time, researchers thought that Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) played a role in the development of CFS, but carefully done studies have not confirmed this. However, a viral cause for CFS is still suspected because the symptoms often mimic those of a viral infection, such as chronic infectious mononucleosis. Researchers are hard at work trying to prove a possible viral link to CFS.
Other theories suggest that any of these factors may be to blame for CFS:
- iron-poor blood (anemia)
- environmental allergies
- sleep disorders
- psychiatric or neurological problems
- endocrine dysfunction
- hypotension (low blood pressure)
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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