Chronic Fatigue Syndrome–Definition and Symptoms


What Is It?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)–aka chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS) aka myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME)–is an illness characterized by intense, deep, and persistent fatigue and exhaustion. Definite immune system abnormalities have been found in the majority of CFS patients, hence the alternate names (“myalgic” = of or relating to myalgia, which is muscle pain; “encephalomyelitis = inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, usually due to viral infection).

About 1 million, less than 1%, of Americans have CFS, and among them, more women are affected than men. The cause is unknown–though current thoughts trend toward infection, immune disorder, or neurological disorder–and there is no cure. CFS produces some similar symptoms to fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) and the two often occur together, but there are differences.

What Are the Symptoms?

A syndrome is a set of symptoms that occur together, indicating the existence of a particular disease. Therefore, chronic fatigue syndrome most commonly presents the following set of symptoms:

  • as stated above, overwhelming, persistent fatigue
  • post-exertional malaise–disproportionate exhaustion lasting at least a day after mental or physical exercise
  • pain–muscle pain; joint pain without swelling or redness; headaches
  • unrefreshing sleep; sleep difficulties
  • impaired memory and concentration; brain fog, cognitive difficulties
  • frequent or recurring sore throats
  • tender and/or enlarged lymph nodes in the neck and armpits
  • other flu-like symptoms

Additional symptoms (and disorders) that often occur along with these are:

  • gastrointestinal problems
  • allergies and sensitivities to foods, odors, chemicals, medications
  • depression, mood swings, irritability
  • visual disturbances (blurry sight, light sensitivity, eye pain)
  • dizziness, balance problems, fainting; difficulty maintaining an upright posture
  • chills, night sweats
  • gynecological problems, including PMS
  • chronic inflammation of the bladder wall (interstitial cystitis), chronic pelvic pain
  • temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)

I think what really sets CFS apart from FMS are the flu-like symptoms that often precipitate and accompany the illness. If not for a lack of these flu-like symptoms, I would believe that I have chronic fatigue syndrome rather than fibro. But who knows. I could even have both, which is called comorbidity–the simultaneous presence of 2 (or more) chronic medical conditions in 1 person. Many fibro and CFS sufferers can attest to having comorbidity.

Are you a CFS sufferer? Do you experience comorbidity? How do you cope?


Fibromyalgia Syndrome–Definition and Symptoms



What Is It?

Fibromyalgia–“fibro” = fibrous, or of fibers, and “myalgia” = muscle pain–syndrome (FMS; hereafter referred to as “FMS”, “fibromyalgia”, or “fibro”) is a musculoskeletal disorder marked by widespread muscle pain. This pain is thought to be caused by overactive nerves in the body overloading the brain with pain signals. Why this condition develops is unknown. The symptoms that characterize FMS are often part or the main feature of other diseases as well, making it easy to misdiagnose. It affects many more women than men as well as middle-aged than younger and approximately 2-5% of the American population.

What Are the Symptoms?

A syndrome is a set of symptoms that occur together, indicating the existence of a particular disease. Therefore, fibromyalgia syndrome most commonly presents the following set of symptoms:

  • as stated above, widespread pain; such pain usually occurs in the muscles, but can also be felt in the tendons and ligaments (the soft fibrous tissues), and the joints
  • tenderness, or sensitivity to touch (also considered a decreased pain threshold); this can be experienced body-wide but it is particularly noticed at specific pressure points throughout the body
  • fatigue that is chronic and disproportionate to preceding activity, possibly even debilitating; this symptom also includes low stamina
  • difficulty sleeping and/or getting restful sleep
  • memory and concentration difficulties, often referred to as “brain fog” and sometimes “fibro fog”
  • depression and/or anxiety and mood swings

Additional symptoms that accompany these main ones are commonly associated with FMS but occur in varying combinations:

  • digestive problems such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), aka acid reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • irritable or overactive bladder
  • chronic headaches, migraines, or tension headaches
  • hypersensitivity to cold or heat; skin rashes and irritation
  • temporomandibular disorder (TMJ), which can include face or jaw pain and ringing in the ears
  • muscle and/or joint stiffness, particularly in the morning
  • chronic tension, knots, cramping, weakness, and spasms in the muscles
  • abdominal pain or cramping
  • difficulty with balance and impaired coordination
  • dryness of the mouth, nose or eyes
  • tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • weight gain

Personally, I experience all 6 of the main symptoms and 7-12 of the additional symptoms. Any of these symptoms can be triggers for a flare-up of fibro pain. The opposite can also happen, where an increase in fibro pain can make another symptom flare-up, for example sensitivity to touch/tenderness. This sometimes ends up locking into a never-ending cycle, where each symptom is triggered by another and then triggers something else, or just triggers its trigger right back (did that make any sense?). Alleviating just one of the symptoms in the cycle can break it and give you a chance to get results treating the other symptoms, too.

What about you? What’s your personal combination of FMS symptoms?