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Alternative Medicine and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Part 1

The actual percentage of the population that has been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or CFS, is only about 0.2 percent. But for those who have CFS, simply taking a flight of stairs or getting dressed can be an exhausting experience that leaves them incapacitated for days. Fatigue is the hallmark symptom of CFS. However, CFS involves other serious symptoms that are even more debilitating than the fatigue itself, such as severe impairment of cognitive function and a weakened immune system, leading some patients and health professionals to call for an alternative name for this illness. Some feel that characterizing this disorder as a form of simple fatigue trivializes its effects on patients, and has contributed to the continued resistance by some medical professionals to recognize its existence. For this reason, today more health professionals are likely to use the term Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS), which helps to address the cause of this illness, rather than its primary symptom.

Chronic fatigue syndrome may not be a new illness. Some theorize that it is simply a new name for an old disease first identified in 1881 by Dr. George Beard, who began seeing patients suffering from chronic fatigue, pain, and headaches. Unable to find a physical cause for the illness, he named the condition neurasthenia, surmising it to be a nervous disorder, somehow related to the stresses of industrialized society and the increased “mental activity of women.” While today it seems ridiculous to establish such causal links, modern medicine did little to improve on Dr. Beard’s earlier assumptions when this condition came again to the forefront.

In 1985 in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, a cluster group developed symptoms of CFS. Because most of the individuals affected tended to be high achievers and women, and belonged to higher socioeconomic groups, this disorder was once again written off as a form of hypochondria, a “yuppie flu” suffered by people who were unable to live up to the demands of their busy lives and challenging careers.

However, as time passed and more cases of chronic fatigue were diagnosed throughout the country, researchers began to take a closer look at this disorder, finding that the initial assumptions made regarding this illness were incorrect. Although it is true that the majority of people diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome are women, it is now known that chronic fatigue syndrome can affect either gender. In addition, while chronic fatigue normally strikes those between the ages of 25 and 50, the elderly and children also develop CFS.

In 1988 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) coined the term “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,” and defined it as a condition in which a patient has persistent fatigue for at least 6 months not attributable to any other cause. The CDC definition of chronic fatigue syndrome also stipulated that a proper diagnosis should include at least four of the following symptoms:
  • substantial impairment of short- or long-term memory;
  • swollen lymph nodes;
  • headache, muscle pain;
  • non-inflammatory joint pain;
  • nonrestful sleep;
  • and increased fatigue upon exercising that lasts at least 24 hours.
In addition to the official CDC criteria, people suffering from chronic fatigue also commonly suffer from chills, night sweats, fever, rashes, and irregular heartbeat. This is, of course, problematic for many physicians since these symptoms mimic the flu. In the case of chronic fatigue, however, these symptoms are both chronic and ongoing with no end in sight.

Alternative Medicine and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Part 2


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