Let’s Talk About: Chronic Fatigue
I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome following a bout of untreated glandular fever. I most likely had it for most of my final year of high school, which a lot of my doctors attribute my general fuzziness of that period to.
However, halfway through my first year of university, I met with a doctor and informed him – informed him – that I had all the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. A quick glance at my medical history, and he saw that in 2008 I had an ESR of 14 (the normal range is 0-12) and in 2014 it was 24. A few questions later and bang; I had a diagnosis.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
There is no cure for CFS/ME. There are lots of theories surrounding the illnesses though. It is mostly accepted that the overall illness comes from a virus or an infection, that damages the immune system and therefore causes the body to malfunction.
During this period, your body moves into its sympathetic nervous system; that is, fight or flight mode. The hypothalamus is being sent messages to work in overdrive, sending confused and fast messages to various parts of your body. Hence, your body’s internal health mechanisms begin to work faster too, stressing the overall function.
From here, you can guess what happens. Your body has moved from working out of the normal status (the parasympathetic nervous system) to fight or flight (the sympathetic nervous system). In fight or flight mode, your digestion slows, cortisol levels increase (a stress hormone), and senses are stimulated. Anyone with CFS can tell you – we heard you coming down the hallway about 30 seconds before you thought we could.
Of course, you can’t sustain this amount of energy production for very long. This is where adrenaline comes in, stimulating the brain and body as much as it can, to fight off the invisible threat. This is where the myth of adrenaline fatigue comes from – your body, eventually, runs out of adrenaline, but only for a period of time.
Enter left the sugar cravings. You can’t digest heavy foods, good fats or protein; no, you want chips. Instant energy is the game, and you are most certainly playing. They think pregnancy cravings are bad – try fatigue ones.
Of course, instant energy can’t sustain you for long. You need to rest, recuperate, reaccumulate your adrenaline, your cortisol, your glutamate and dopamine levels. But your hypothalamus hasn’t slowed down, nor are you out of that state of fight or flight; and so, the vicious cycle continues.
General symptoms include
- Pain in the joints and/or muscles
- Fatigue lasting for more than six months
- A general inability to sustain any type of activity, including exercise
- A degradation of cognitive function, including confusion, forgetfulness and a lack of concentration. This is generally known as ‘brain fog’; thinking becomes similar to trying to listen to the radio while driving through a tunnel.
- Excessive ‘sleepiness’, but overall unrefreshing sleep
- A raise in the chance of mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression
- Tension headaches, muscle fatigue and weakness, high pain sensitivity, inflamed lymphnodes (especially in the throat) and sensitivity to light, noise and smell.
Theories of Chronic Fatigue
1 CFS is a state of persistent burnout that remains after the initial stressors have been removed. This persistence may be due to a combination of a dysregulation of the HPA axis and behavioural factors. https://peerj.com/preprints/860.pdf
2 After repetitive overwork and/or stress, alarm signal to rest and fatigue sensation may cause in response to an unconditioned stimulus (impaired homeostasis and function) that has been paired with a conditioned stimulus (overwork and/or stress). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20338693
3 Genetic issue, linked to mitochondria https://www.healthrising.org/blog/2017/02/23/genes-mitochondria-autoimmunity-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-alan-light-talk/
4 General Overview by Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-fatigue-syndrome/basics/causes/con-20022009
For more information, visit https://emerge.org.au/