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A variety of studies have shown that millions of people worldwide suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). They are seriously impaired, at least a quarter is unemployed or on disability benefit because of CFS, yet only about half has consulted a physician.
CFS is a debilitating and complex disorder characterised by profound fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity. People with CFS often function at a substantially lower level of activity than they were capable of before the onset of the illness.
CFS is marked by extreme fatigue that has lasted at least for a period of six months, is not the result of ongoing exertion, is not substantially relieved by rest, and causes a substantial reduction in daily activities.
In addition to fatigue, CFS includes the following eight characteristic symptoms:
Symptoms and their consequences can be severe. CFS can be as disabling as multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, congestive heart failure and similar chronic conditions. Symptom severity varies from person to person and may vary over time for an individual.
The earlier a person with CFS receives medical treatment, the greater the likelihood that the illness will resolve. Equally important, about 40% of people in the general population who report symptoms of CFS have a serious, treatable, previously unrecognised medical or psychiatric condition (such as diabetes, thyroid disease, substance abuse). CFS is a serious illness and poses a dilemma for patients, their families and healthcare providers.
Depression must be treated if present, and recent research has demonstrated the effectiveness of cognitive therapy.
The cause of CFS remains unknown, but it is believed to have its origin in a combination of viral, social and psychological factors. Theories based on one specific cause (such as the Epstein-Barr virus) have been largely discredited.
The earlier term myalgic encephalomyelitis was replaced with the more accurate term CFS because sufferers do not have encephalomyelitis (inflammation of the muscle membranes) and many do not have myalgia (muscle pain). Stereotypes of the typical sufferer being a middle-class, middle-aged woman have also been found to be unjustified. CFS is not a new phenomenon and cases have been documented worldwide for more than 50 years.
Risk factors for CFS
Diagnosis of CFS
The first diagnosed cases of CFS in South Africa were reported as early as 1955 in Durban City at the Addington Hospital. It was then referred to as "The Durban Mystery Disease" with140 people infected. According to statistics the prevalence of CFS (the estimated population of people who are managing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at any given time in South Africa) is relatively high compared to other Africa countries.