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Sleep and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

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Could improving your sleep lessen the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)?

Our aim here is to understand the connection between the two as it may be possible to confuse the symptoms of CFS and sleep deprivation. There are however definite differences.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms

The main symptom of CFS and probably the hardest to live with, is constant and persistent fatigue lasting 6 months or more. Others include:

Feeling feverish Sore throat Muscle aches and pains Tender or swollen lymph nodes Joint pain More headaches than usual Abnormal lethargy after exercise Poor concentration Depression Poor quality sleep

Although not everyone who suffers with CFS will display all of the above, two or more of these symptoms would definitely bear further investigation. By contrast, sleep deprived people would not usually experience swollen lymph nodes, joint pain, feverishness or sore throat.

CFS often follows a bout of flu or other respiratory disease. It's onset can be quite sudden following recovery of the initial disease. It occurs more frequently in middle age and elderly people, and twice as often in women as men. Sleep deprivation is not so choosey! It can affect male, female and all ages alike.

CFS is a debilitating illness which is hard to diagnose due to the symptoms being non specific. Also the symptoms described by the sufferers often cannot be verified. For instance, patients often describe feeling feverish although their temperature is normal. 

Recent studies indicate CFS may in fact be an immune disorder due to inflammation of the immune system,  but there are medical practitioners who still believe it to be a disease of "malingerers". In fact some of those suffering with CFS often wonder sometimes if they are imagining their symptoms. But CFS is very real and can lead to broken marriages and wrecked careers.

It is very important for those who suspect they have CFS to seek medical attention straight away. If you feel your doctor is not taking you seriously, get a second and even a third opinion. It helps if you have been seeing the same doctor for some time, as they know you and can recognize that you are not a "hypochondriac" or a time waster looking for sympathy.

CFS is certainly not new, although the association of symptoms under the name Chronic Fatigue Syndrome only took place in the 1990s. Previously it was largely overlooked or thought to be something else, for example low blood sugar, Lyme disease, allergies, fybromyalgia, yeast infections etc.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Treatment

These vary from antidepressants, steroids, immune system medications and anti-histamines to the more holistic treatments like evening primrose oil, diet therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, removal of dental fillings (mercury poisoning) and gentle exercise programs.

Although lack of a definite treatment for CFS leaves a lot to be desired, the above treatments, whether all or a combination, can prove fairly effective. The broad answer seems to be to treat the symptoms as they occur and make the effort to improve quality of sleep.

The quality of sleep of patients must have a direct effect on the severity of the disease. If depression is the main problem, treatment of that can significantly improve the quality of sleep, thus relieving somewhat the persistent fatigue.

In conclusion. a combination of better quality sleep with gentle exercise, optimal diet and cognitive behavioural therapy would go a long way to improving the lives of patients with CFS. This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. Please see your health care provider.


By Wendy Owen
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