Keys to chronic fatigue: comprehension, communication, coping

For years, chronic fatigue syndrome has been brushed aside as hypochondria or laziness, but its effects are now known to be all too real and hard-hitting.

As doctors and researchers search for the cause of chronic fatigue, people with the disorder continue to struggle with getting friends, family members, teachers and employers to understand what they are dealing with.

Bringing in science can help curtail responses such as “You’re making this up,” “It’s all in your head,” and “You’re just lazy.” Countless hours of research and large quantities of money are being spent on the study of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Yasuyoshi Watanabe, M.D., director of the RIKEN Center for Life Science Technologies in Osaka, Japan, is investigating the possibility that specific regions of chronic-fatigue patients’ brains are inflamed. Watanabe’s findings are scheduled for publication in the spring of 2015. Elsewhere, researchers are exploring other possibilities, such as predisposing factors, the effects of stress, and viral infection.

A variety of symptoms
Chronic fatigue syndrome can affect people in different ways. While most often found in women in their 40s and 50s, the disorder isn’t restricted by gender, age or environment.

When chronic fatigue strikes, it may generate any of a number of symptoms, including joint pain, headaches, swollen lymph nodes, an overwhelming sense of depletion, sleep problems, chills or night sweats, allergies or dizziness. Depression may result, due to the chronic-fatigue sufferer’s difficulty with maintaining a grip on daily life. Although some of the symptoms may seem flu-like, chronic fatigue’s symptoms linger much longer. It’s usually diagnosed after the symptoms last for six months.

Dealing with diagnosis
If you are diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, talk with your doctor in detail about what to expect. You may want to consider bringing into this discussion a family member or a friend who can hear all the facts and ask questions you may not think of, given your state of mind. For both you and your doctor, the variability of symptoms can pose a challenge to creating a treatment plan.

Communication is key — and not only with your doctor.

Talk with your pharmacist about what effects you may experience from medications and supplements, and what foods and drinks you may want to avoid.

Once you have taught friends, close colleagues and family members about chronic fatigue syndrome, invite them to play an active role in your support system. Being participants in your health care will make them more interested in learning about the syndrome and how it affects you.

When you are at a low point with chronic fatigue, it can be hard to monitor and bolster yourself. By creating a strong support system of professionals, family and friends, you can build the best scaffolding for yourself. That structure can keep you going while researchers continue searching for chronic fatigue syndrome’s cause and a cure.