HEALTH

Understanding chronic fatigue syndrome

Dec 21, 2023, 7:00 AM

Long Covid is a debilitating condition that can include breathing problems, brain fog, chronic coug...

Long Covid is a debilitating condition that can include breathing problems, brain fog, chronic coughing and overwhelming fatigue. (Ol'ga Efimova/EyeEm/Getty Images)

(Ol'ga Efimova/EyeEm/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control found that myalgic encephalomyelitis (MECFS), or chronic fatigue syndrome affects more than three million Americans. It has no cure, and some say doctors haven’t taken it seriously until now. 

Instances of long COVID, where symptoms from a COVID-19 infection return and linger, have likely amplified this number according to the study.

The Mayo Clinic characterizes chronic fatigue syndrome as at least six months of “extreme exhaustion.” This exhaustion doesn’t fully improve with rest and may get worse with physical and mental activity.

Some common symptoms are problems with memory and thinking, dizziness, and muscle or joint pain.

As of now, there is no cure.

How doctors diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome

Certified Family Nurse Practitioner with the Bateman Horne Center Jennifer Bell told KSL NewsRadio that chronic fatigue syndrome is difficult to diagnose. That’s one reason it’s stayed under the radar as a significant issue.  

“There isn’t a blood test (and) there isn’t an x-ray that can necessarily say ‘Ah, this is what you have,'” she said. “So, a lot of people have been thought … as being malingering, being lazy, being depressed (or) being anxious. And are often …, in a very traumatic way, often dismissed by many types of health providers out there.”

Since fatigue is not uncommon, how do doctors determine who has chronic fatigue syndrome and who doesn’t? According to Bell, chronic fatigue syndrome has some unique characteristics.

“One of the most important aspects of MECFS is something called post-exertional malaise,” she said.

Bell described post-exertional malaise as a disorder of cellular energy production. It’s unique to people with chronic fatigue syndrome.

“So, every cell in the body is having difficulty producing energy on a very efficient level, … causing people to fatigue much more quickly,” she said.

Everyday activities can affect people with MECFS

People with this disorder can become fatigued by many things. Bell cited physical activity, like going for a walk, or even sitting and driving a car as examples.

And she said that cognitive activity and emotional exertion can be very challenging.

“So, having a really stressful experience, or even a happy experience and even just being upright and moving around … all types of exertion that can cause the body to run out of energy,” Bell said.

According to Bell, if someone were to ignore this exertion, people with MECFS risk becoming very ill.

“It’s a very wide spectrum. Some people can have it kind of mildly, or intermittently, and other people can be bedridden with this,” she said.

Listen to Dave & Dujanovic on weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

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Understanding chronic fatigue syndrome