The kind of lethargic, extreme fatigue that leaves you exhausted to your very core might be caused by what is known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
This article first appeared on Your Tango and has been republished with permission.
'Why am I always so tired?'
If you feel a specific kind of tired all the time and don't know why, your body might be trying desperately to fight something off, with no chance of catching up in sight.
This isn't the kind of tired you can get over by spending a weekend sleeping or even going on a full week’s vacation on the beach. It's a deep muscle, debilitating kind of tired that makes it feel impossible to even get out of bed some days.
What is chronic fatigue syndrome?
Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is the label meant to describe a complex syndrome that causes long-term, disabling, extreme fatigue and exhaustion.
Most people affected by ME/CFS also exhibit one or more additional symptoms, such as muscular pains, joint pains, disturbed sleep patterns, poor concentration and/or headaches. In severe cases, you may experience all of these.
What causes ME/CFS, and how can it be diagnosed?
As with most syndromes, there is no blood test available to make a definitive diagnosis, and there is currently no known cause.
There are pressure point tests you can take to assess your pain that provide a rough standard of measurement. If a certain number of pain points react, it can be assumed that you have ME/CFS.
The medical community in Europe understands the cause to be a painful swelling of the brain and spinal chord (which is basically what the Latin words myalgic encephalomyelitis mean). Again, however, this is merely another way of describing a set of symptoms rather than identifying a cause.
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Chronic fatigue syndrome tends to be the go-to diagnosis when you suffer from debilitating chronic pain and exhaustion but everything else has been tested and nothing shows up. Many doctors seem to think of it as an umbrella diagnosis covering a variety of illnesses and issues which all result in the same set of symptoms. There is a considerable variety among the types and severity of symptoms that leave someone with an overwhelming sense of constant fatigue.
Essentially, this syndrome is diagnosed only by ruling out every other known possibility.
So, when does feeling tired all the time cross over the line of being explained by feeling over-worked, over-stressed, and close to burnout?
Here are 9 myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue symptoms to watch for if you're extremely exhausted and constantly wondering, "Why am I always so tired?"
1. It is very different from everyday tiredness (such as after a week of work)
- It is not eased much by rest.
- It is not due to, or like, tiredness following over-exertion.
- It is not due to muscle weakness.
- It is not loss of motivation or pleasure which occurs in people who are depressed.
It is none of those, but any and all of those may develop as a result of the CFS/ME.
2. A sudden onset
Feeling like you are coming down with the flu but it never goes away. There are cases where it develops more slowly but sudden onset is a big red flag. This is one of the big reasons why many believe there is a viral component to it.
3. Dull, aching pain in your muscles and joints
Dull, aching pain in muscles or joints that won't go away and doesn't respond to anything is another sign of chronic fatigue syndrome. It may develop into chronic headaches that are not migraines. The pain is often considered to be in the fascia but moves around a lot and does not seem to be related to muscle use.
4. Post activity malaise
Meaning you manage to do something but then the next day you can hardly function. It can take several days to get back to stable. Doing exercise makes all the symptoms worse.
5. Mental exhaustion
Not only do your muscles feel tired but your brain feels like it just can’t turn on. Many report that it is different from brain fog or anxiety. It just seems the brain is too tired to work.
6. Deteriorating thinking skills
Poor concentration, poor short-term memory, reduced attention span, poor memory of recent events, difficulty with planning or organizing your thoughts, difficulty finding the right words to say, sometimes feeling disorientated. Often these skills show a very different picture from the suffer’s pre-onset ability to function.
7. Feeling exhausted, yet unable to sleep
You lay in bed and the pain keeps you awake. Its like you don’t have the energy to go to sleep. When you do get to sleep you feel like you can’t wake up. Many suffer from disrupted sleep patterns. The sleep problems are a result not a cause in CFS/ME.
8. A recurring sore throat
This will often be accompanied by tenderness in the nearby lymph glands. The sore throat seems cyclical rather than just picked up another bug.
9. A racing heart or heart palpitations
Your heartbeat may be irregular. but testing shows nothing and the doctors cannot explain it.
If you are tired to the point of extreme fatigue and exhibit six or more of the above indicators, you need help.
It is not just being over-worked or in need of a vacation.
Find a Functional Medicine physician or Naturopath who can run the tests to rule out everything else, and then follow up with a holistic therapist for treatment.
Knowing what you have is helpful in one sense, but on the other hand, a diagnosis alone won't make you feel better. But don't fall into the trap of believing this cannot be "cured."
You aren't just tired, and appropriate care is out there to help you.