Chronic fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome are often used interchangeably, but they are actually two very separate things. Most of us have experienced fatigue as a symptom of illnesses such as the flu, pneumonia, or a severe cold. It can also sneak up on us through extreme stress, poor nutrition, or lack of sleep (remember those "just had a baby" days?).
Chronic fatigue is that kind of unrelenting fatigue that persists for more than six months. It is a symptom of other diseases such as infections, lupus, multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease, depression, fibromyalgia, anemia, or sleep apnea. If you cure the disease, the fatigue goes away. If the disease is chronic, then chronic fatigue can be treated but not cured.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is an actual disease recognized by the Center for Disease Control. It is a neurological and autoimmune disease. The main characteristic of CFS is severe, disabling physical and mental fatigue that gets worse with even minimal exertion. In addition to fatigue, people with CFS also exhibit at least four of the following symptoms:
- Impaired memory or concentration
- Post-exertional malaise (extreme, prolonged exhaustion and sickness following physical or mental activity)
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain without swelling or redness
- Headaches of a new type or severity
- Sore throat that's frequent or recurring
- Tender cervical or axillary lymph nodes
CFS for me is typically a cycle where I feel pretty good for awhile, then I start to deteriorate and end with a crash that can last days or even weeks. I go into survival mode during the crash period, which apparently lets me recuperate and I gradually get back to feeling better. I'm in the process of trying to figure out what triggers my crashes so I can avoid them more often.
I'm grateful for a loving and forgiving family that steps up and helps out when I'm in the middle of a crash. I know this disease has hurt them tremendously, but I swear I'm doing all I can to make things better!