Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has been a subject of controversy for many years. Medical authorities were once quite skeptical regarding whether it even existed. However, in 1988, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) officially recognized CFS. Today, CFS is defined essentially as follows: Unexplained, persistent, or relapsing fatigue with a definite beginning; it is not the result of exertion; it is not relieved by rest; and it results in significant reduction of activities.
In addition, at least four of the following symptoms persist or recur for 6 or more consecutive months of the illness:
- Impairment in short-term memory or concentration
- Sore throat
- Tender lymph nodes in the neck or armpits
- Muscle pain
- Pain in many joints, without redness or swelling
- Headache of new pattern or severity
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Malaise following exercise, that lasts for more than 24 hours
Frequently, symptoms of CFS follow a viral infection; some individuals with CFS describe their symptoms as a flu that never goes away.
The cause (or causes) of CFS remains unknown. Because its symptoms somewhat resemble those of mononucleosis (caused by the Epstein-Barr virus), for a time the disease was called chronic Epstein-Barr syndrome. However, further investigation disclosed that evidence of past or current Epstein-Barr infection is no more common in individuals with CFS than in the general population. Nonetheless, this erroneous and misleading term still crops up in literature on CFS.
Other syndromes with a similar pattern of symptoms to CFS include fibromyalgia , multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), and food allergies ; some consider these conditions to be closely related to each other, but there is no real evidence to support this hypothesis.
There is no dramatically effective treatment for CFS. Antidepressants (such as Prozac and Zoloft) may improve energy and mood; older antidepressants (such as amitriptyline) may improve sleep; antihistamines and decongestants can help allergic symptoms that frequently occur in CFS; and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen and naproxen) may help pain.
Proposed Natural Treatments
There are some promising natural treatments for CFS, but the scientific evidence for them is not yet strong.
Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NADH)
Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) is a naturally occurring chemical that plays a significant role in cellular energy production. NADH supplements have been tried in hopes they might improve energy levels in athletes and in individuals with chronic fatigue.
However, this study was severely flawed. One problem was that, rather than using a placebo group for comparison purposes, researchers chose to investigate the antiviral drug amantadine. This drug has no proven efficacy in CFS, and it caused so many side effects that more than half of the participants dropped out during the period they were taking amantadine. This high dropout rate makes statistical interpretation of the results unreliable. In addition, the lack of blinding in the study also impairs the trustworthiness of the results.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 07/2012 -
- Update Date: 07/25/2012 -