What we know about chronic fatigue syndrome

chronic fatigue syndromeHave you heard of the disease called chronic fatigue syndrome?  It’s a condition with symptoms that include persistent fatigue (especially after any kind of physical exertion), pain, neurological problems, headaches and decreased cognitive function.

The disease is a tricky one to diagnose because so many other medical conditions – from heart disease, depression, cancer and even pregnancy – include fatigue among their symptoms. Another problem is that many medical professionals don’t recognize the illness as a disease in its own right, or think that patients make up their symptoms. And once chronic fatigue syndrome is diagnosed, there are few, if any, proven treatments available.

This month, the U.S. Institute of Medicine issued a new report on chronic fatigue syndrome that includes a thorough review of the evidence on the illness.  According to the report, between 800,000 and 2.5 million Americans suffer from the condition, although the vast majority remains undiagnosed.

The report includes a comprehensive medical definition of the illness. Among the markers of the disease are:

·         The inability to engage in normal daily activities for more than 6 months, accompanied by profound fatigue that is not alleviated by rest.

·         The feeling of needing to collapse after even minor physical or mental exertion.

·         Not feeling refreshed or renewed by sleep.

·         Cognitive impairments.

The report also proposes renaming the disease to Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease, or SEID, because it is a more accurate name and also, because it could help to dispel misconceptions about the condition.

This report doesn’t address the issue of treating the disease, but does recommend that doctors offer treatments for symptoms of the condition.

Finally, the report proposes a broad plan for disseminating this new information to doctors of all specialties so that medical practitioners become more aware of this debilitating disease.

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