Chronic fatigue syndrome, a serious long-term illness characterized by extreme tiredness, may be more common than previous research has suggested. More than three million Americans cope with the debilitating condition, according to a new CDC analysis.
New data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that the condition, which is also called myalgic encephalomyelitis, affects about 3.3 million U.S. adults. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disorder characterized by extreme fatigue or tiredness that doesn’t go away with rest and can’t be explained by an underlying medical condition.
CAUSE IS UNKNOWN
The cause of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is still unknown. A combination of factors may be involved, including genetics. ME/CFS appears to run in some families, so some people may be born with a higher likelihood of developing the disorder.
The cause of CFS is unknown. Researchers speculate that contributing factors may include:
• A weakened immune system.
• Hormonal imbalances.
It’s also possible that some people are genetically predisposed to develop CFS. Though CFS can sometimes develop after a viral infection, no single type of infection has been found to cause CFS.
Sufferers also experience extreme fatigue after physical or mental activities, which is referred to as post-exertional malaise (PEM). This can last for more than 24 hours after the activity. CFS can also introduce sleep problems, such as feeling unrefreshed after a night’s sleep, chronic insomnia and other sleep disorders.
“Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome is a complex, multi-system illness characterized by activity-limiting fatigue, worsening of symptoms after activity, and other symptoms,” wrote Elizabeth Unger, M.D., chief of the CDC’s Chronic Viral Diseases Branch, and her coauthors. “It affects all age, sex and racial and ethnic groups and costs the U.S. economy about $18 to $51 billion annually.”
WOMEN AFFECTED MOST
The new research highlights that the likelihood of getting ME/CFS increases with age, with the highest percentage having it between ages 50 and 69. After that point, the risk declines. For women, the risk was about twice as great compared with men.
Disease rates decreased with higher family income and as places of residence became more metropolitan and less rural. The new findings illustrate that the illness can affect a range of people, and is not limited to middle and upper class white women, as some earlier reports seemed to suggest.
There’s currently no specific cure for CFS. Each person has different symptoms and therefore may require different types of treatment to manage the disorder and relieve their symptoms. Cognitive behavior therapy and exercise therapy have been shown to improve fatigue, work and social adjustment, anxiety and post-exertional malaise.