Chronic fatigue syndrome is one of the more misunderstood illnesses. The disorder is marked by prolonged tiredness, which is worsened by physical and mental activities, and is never improved by bed rest. The cause of the illness is still unknown, which is largely why some who are afflicted with it report having been diagnosed only one to five years after. And most patients are told that all the symptoms are in their head.

Demoralising healthcare situation

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is not a psychosomatic illness. It is not an imagined illness. It is a serious, complex, and debilitating condition that manifests physical symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has described it as “debilitating” and “complex.” Medical panels have been established to determine the critical symptoms of the conditions. And yet some in the medical community are still skeptical about its seriousness, trivialising its impact.

As a result, patients have to deal with healthcare providers that are dismissive of the condition. Finding and getting a diagnosis is a frustrating experience for sufferers. The misconception or dismissal over the seriousness of the illness has led to distress for many patients.

A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine shared that people with chronic illness, including fatigue syndrome, showed higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. This is possible even if they have not gone through a traumatic event. The demoralisation from their healthcare experience has aggravated their symptoms even further.

A virus or something else?

While the syndrome stems from a biologic cause, the underlying origin is still unknown. There is a theory attributing the disorder to Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which is behind many debilitating illnesses. These illnesses include lupus, vertigo, fibromyalgia, tinnitus, and CFS. Patients with chronic fatigue reportedly show raised viral load of EBV.

EBV creates a neurotoxin in the body that inflames the central nervous system. This weakens the adrenal glands and digestive system, which creates a feeling of low energy. It is triggered by physical exhaustion, hormonal changes, and emotional trauma.

But there is another theory indicating that immune system dysfunction, instead of a single virus (or viruses), is actually the culprit. Comprehensive research has yet to confirm varying theories.

Compassionate treatment is important for CFS

As the cause behind the disorder remains uncertain, doctors prescribe a variety of treatments, each addressing the symptom. The recommended treatments include medications that modulate the sufferer’s troubled immune system and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Cognitive behavioural therapy is not meant to cure the disorder, but rather give patients the coping skills they need to manage the illness. A report published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research revealed that after a 12-week intervention using CBT and stress management techniques, patients with chronic fatigue reported a greater quality of life, and a decrease in the severity of symptoms.

Through compassionate approach, and a combination of mindfulness and meditation practice, patients with chronic fatigue can benefit from CBT.

If you’re looking for support, please search our national directory of counsellors and therapists who specialise in chronic illness.