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We can all get tired, stressed and exhausted from time to time. Sometimes this is related to worry and anxiety, perhaps about work, money or our relationships; sometimes it is related to having a busy lifestyle that is unsustainable, working long hours or running around after everyone else without a break for yourself.

Recognising that you need to take time to unwind, not doing so many hours at work or asking for a bit more help can be hard. If you feel constantly tired and lacking in energy, making some small changes could make a big difference.

For others though, persistent fatigue and extreme tiredness may interrupt their life so much that they are given a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME).

The main symptom of CFS/ME is extreme and disabling fatigue, even after rest and particularly after exertion. There are often other symptoms, including:

  • flu-like symptoms
  • sleep problems
  • muscle soreness, again particularly after exertion
  • sensitive skin
  • headaches
  • a sore throat or sore glands that aren't swollen
  • difficulty thinking, remembering or concentrating
  • sensitivity to sound or light
  • feeling dizzy or sick
  • feeling anxious and low in mood

As the symptoms of CFS/ME are similar to the symptoms of some other illnesses, it's important to see your GP to work out what the correct diagnosis is. Unfortunately, there isn't a specific test for CFS/ME, so it is diagnosed based on your symptoms and by ruling out other conditions that could be causing the symptoms.

While it is not known exactly what causes CFS/ME, there are a number of suggested causes or triggers such as:

  • viral infections, such as glandular fever
  • bacterial infections, such as pneumonia
  • lifestyle factors
  • problems with the immune system
  • emotional stress and trauma

Treatment for CFS/ME involves understanding how you are already managing, learning from what is working well or not so well, identifying particular valued-life areas and goals that you want to work towards, trying out different patterns of activity, and gradually building up what you can do. It also addresses the emotional consequences of living with fatigue, and changing how your respond to fatigue.

Living with persistent fatigue and the difficulties that often go hand in hand with it can make it hard to enjoy life. However, I used to lead a nationally recognised specialist CFS clinic and have worked with many people with CFS/ME who have been able to make significant positive changes to their lives. Helping people to understand and adapt what they do and how they think, leads to improvements in mood, quality of relationships and ability to participate in life. For some, it can lead to returning to work after prolonged time off, for others it can lead to valued life changes that are more positive than returning to life before CFS/ME.

For more information about how to deal with persistent fatigue, contact Dr Alex.