Chronic fatigue syndrome:
when you feel beyond ‘tired’

Kelly L. Forys
U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion & Preventive Medicine

For military personnel or their family members who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, being tired is a way of life. CFS is not due to laziness, and it is more than just fatigue – individuals with this disorder have endured six or more months of problems including difficulty with memory and concentration, sore throat, muscle pain, joint pain, and headaches. Suffering from CFS is similar to having a bad case of the flu that will not go away.

If someone you know or love experiences these symptoms, he or she is not alone. More than a million Americans are also suffering. CFS affects both men and women, although women are four times more likely to be diagnosed with CFS than men are. CFS most commonly affects individuals in their 40s and 50s; however, teenagers are also vulnerable.

The symptoms listed above can be attributed to many normal daily activities such as job duties, stress related to work, caring for family members and not getting enough rest. Because it is easy to explain away the symptoms, most who experience this intense fatigue outside of heavy training or deployment do not seek treatment.

Less than 20 percent of those who have the cluster of symptoms required to diagnose CFS have actually received a diagnosis from their doctors. A specific test to diagnose CFS does not exist. Rather, CFS is often diagnosed after conditions with similar symptoms such as thyroid disorders, cancer, depression and mononucleosis have been ruled out.

Perhaps even more devastating than the actual symptoms of CFS are the effects that the symptoms have on an individual’s daily life. Those who feel tired and achy all of the time are less likely to socialize with friends and family, less likely to be productive at work and less likely to be happy with life.

Servicemembers with CFS might find that their fatigue makes it difficult to maintain the rigorous pace of training. During deployment, the physical symptoms and fatigue that CFS sufferers experience might prevent them from keeping up with the physical demands on the body that result from an increase in operational tempo. This situation can be very frustrating to servicemembers and their commanders.

Although scientists suggest that a combination of genetic and environmental factors contribute to its development, the cause of CFS is not known. As a result, CFS cannot be readily prevented; however, maintaining a healthy lifestyle (including a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and lean protein; participating in daily exercise; and building supportive relationships) is always a good suggestion for achieving optimal health.

There is no known cure for CFS; however, medications and lifestyle changes can reduce pain and fatigue. Lifestyle changes that are recommended to improve symptoms of CFS include stress-reduction activities, gentle stretching, healthy foods, adequate sleep and moderate amounts of exercise (walking, biking, jogging, etc., for 30 minutes per day).