Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: an invisible illness

If you live with fatigue all the time it is not normal, you could have a disease that is difficult to diagnose, these are the symptoms.
wind-up doll ilustration
Diagnosis can be difficult for many patients. (Photo: Getty Images)

Can you imagine living with extreme tiredness that does not improve with rest for more than six months? Chronic Fatigue Syndrome affects 7 out of every 100,000 people around the world, according to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Although the WHO classified this syndrome as a disease in 1990, and the Fukuda International Criteria were established to diagnose it in 1994, detecting it is extremely difficult because symptoms can be confused with other diseases and there is no test for it.

Carolina Castillo Castro, endocrinologist and academic director of Internal Medicine at the Zambrano Hellion Hospital of Tecnológico de Monterrey’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences, explains the challenge of diagnosing this syndrome.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: how to diagnose it

People with the syndrome have explained that they feel fatigued when they wake up, and their tiredness increases with exercise or stress (it can even become disabling). Although everything is improved a little by lying or sitting down, the symptoms don’t disappear.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is characterized by extreme tiredness lasting for at least six months and which decreases a person’s ability to do activities, affecting them at all levels.

It is accompanied by one of two complications: cognitive problems, brain fog, and poor coordination or orthostatic intolerance (the inability to remain upright). Patients also have sore throats as a result of swollen lymph nodes.

Sleep doesn’t provide rest, and patients have difficulties with their memory, concentration, and dizziness. It’s been found that this illness often occurs in a person’s most productive years.

The main problem is that fatigue is a common symptom of many other conditions, such as anemia, heart problems, depression, and anxiety,” explains Carolina Castillo Castro, an endocrinologist at TecSalud.

The diagnosis is determined by ruling out other diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, sleep disorders, neurological disorders, and motor disorders like Parkinson’s disease.

An invisible illness in Mexico and around the world

Carolina Castillo explains that the syndrome goes undiagnosed in Mexico and around the world because it’s difficult to detect. “We don’t have a database or national program for this syndrome. There are no studies about it, and there’s no diagnostic evaluation.

People have also sought to change its name to Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease in order to be more specific about the symptoms and encourage research. It’s practically impossible to develop animal models to study it.

On the other hand, “Treatment is also limited. It’s about attacking each of the problems separately and almost always through cognitive-behavioral therapy. We don’t recommend staying at home alone because the condition gets worse when the stress hormone cortisol is released.

“Living with fatigue all the time isn’t normal. Go to a specialist to get assessed,” suggests the TecSalud specialist.

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