“Chronic fatigue syndrome” sounds like a glib way to explain the way most of us feel on Monday morning.
But it’s actually a real medical diagnosis for a devastating and complex disorder.
Overwhelming fatigue, muscle pain and other tough stuff
According to the CDC, people with Chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS, have overwhelming fatigue and a host of other symptoms that are not improved by bed rest, and that can get worse after physical activity or mental exertion. They often function at a substantially lower level of activity than they were capable of before they became ill.
Besides severe fatigue, other symptoms include muscle pain, impaired memory or mental concentration, insomnia, and post-exertion malaise lasting more than 24 hours. In some cases, CFS can persist for years.
The author of a related commentary being published in Annals of Internal Medicine acknowledges that a new name alone will not improve the lives of people suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome, but expresses optimism that improved clinician knowledge and acceptance, and an enhanced research agenda, is a step in the right direction.
The IOM’s 15-member expert committee found sufficient evidence that chronic fatigue syndrome is a disease with a physiologic basis, and not a psychological problem that should not be taken seriously.
An important clinical characteristic of the disease is post-exertional malaise, or PEM, where exertion from even mild activities can trigger a “collapse” or “relapse” of malaise that lasts days or longer.
Commentary author, Theodore G Ganiats, MD, Professor of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Miami, agrees that new diagnostic criteria and a new name should include the concept of PEM.
The proposed diagnosis — Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease — better describes the debilitating physiological nature of the disease.