Normal Aging or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Normal Aging or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

We all know what it feels like to be incredibly tired. Maybe it stemmed from a severe lack of sleep over several days or weeks. Maybe it was emotional upheaval that left your mind racing and kept you tossing and turning. It could have been some sort of injury that disrupted your sleeping habits, or maybe it was simply insomnia – staring at the ceiling wondering why in the world sleep won’t come.

Over time, a major lack of energy can cause a wide variety of other problems. It might be difficult to concentrate. You may not feel as coherent as you usually are. You might feel dizzy or lightheaded.

But chances are, those symptoms ease up after you get some real rest. A few nights of solid sleep and you feel back to your normal energy levels.

But what if it’s more than just a few night’s of bad sleep? What if it’s something more serious than “normal aging?”

If you have chronic fatigue syndrome, all of the above symptoms happen on a larger scale. Difficulty in concentrating becomes being unable to find the proper words at all. The physical effects – such as dizziness or muscle weakness – are more pronounced and don’t go away.

And the tiredness is like nothing you’ve ever felt before. It’s the kind of bone-deep fatigue that makes simply getting out of bed feel like you’re being asked to run a marathon. It doesn’t matter how much sleep you get. You still feel exhausted even after sleeping through the night. You face a much greater fall risk, as simply walking across the floor can be difficult – a very good reason to be wearing medical alert technology at all times. Things you used to do easily, such as cooking a meal or making a bed, can feel impossible. Even picking up a heavy book can feel so taxing that you dread doing it.

Doing the things you love the most, like hanging out with the grandkids, become an exercise in figuring out how much mental and physical energy you have and how to use it appropriately. You might have only a few hours of “good” time in you before you start to feel your body and mind drooping again.

For those who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, this is what daily life is like.

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

The medical name is myalgic encephalomyelitis. Most people call it ME/CFS, chronic fatigue syndrome, or simply CFS.

Extreme fatigue is a hallmark of the condition, and if it lasts for six months or more, your doctor might suspect CFS. A key component of the diagnosis is that the symptoms of extreme fatigue and related problems don’t improve when you get adequate rest.

CFS is a diagnosis of exclusion. That means that there is no actual test for it. Doctors must exclude all other factors before coming to a diagnosis of CFS. For instance, if you are undergoing chemotherapy, you are fully expected to feel fatigued; therefore, you probably wouldn’t get a CFS diagnosis, because the reason for your fatigue is pretty clear.

But if you have no other conditions, treatments, or problems that might lead to an extreme level of fatigue, CFS might be suspected.

It can be even more difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can vary from one person to another, and might change in severity from one day to the next – or even from one hour to the next. In addition to deep fatigue, other symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome can include:1

·        Exhaustion that gets worse after physical or mental activity

·        Difficulty with thinking and memory

·        Dizziness that gets worse when you move around

·        Unexplained pain in your muscles or joints

·        Sleep that doesn’t refresh you, no matter how many hours you get

·        Physical symptoms that might include swollen lymph nodes, headaches, or a sore throat

·        New sensitivity to certain things, such as medications, food, scents, light, or sound.

What’s the Difference Between CFS and Normal Aging?

You might notice that several of these symptoms seem to fit in with what would be considered “normal” aging. And yes, having more aches and pains, some difficulty with memory or concentration, and being more tired than you used to be are all things that tend to happen naturally as we get older.

But CFS is not normal aging; it affects your life in ways that are far more significant than what you would expect from getting older. And often, CFS starts in those who are in their 40s, 50s, or even younger. CFS appears to get worse with time because as we age, the symptoms of CFS collide with naturally slowing down a bit as we age, and the problems are amplified.

According to ME Research UK, a significant number of those diagnosed with CFS are aged 60 or older. The organization’s research found that older individuals had greater fatigue and depression than younger individuals with CFS, as well as a lower quality of life overall. The study also found that the elderly with CFS had more cardiovascular issues than younger individuals with CFS, even if they had the condition for the same amount of time.2

That suggests that while CFS can be difficult for anyone of any age, it is more likely to lead to additional health problems in the elderly.

What Causes CFS?

Are you at risk of developing CFS? Scientists don’t know what causes the condition, but they have some theories. There might be a genetic component, as CFS appears to run in some families. There is a theory that the body has trouble converting fats and sugars into energy.

Some have noticed that their symptoms began after they suffered from a viral or bacterial infection of some kind. And there are those who noticed their symptoms began in the aftermath of a severe emotional trauma or physical injury.

CFS can occur at any age. It most commonly appears among those who are in middle-age but it can strike for the first time when you are elderly. It is more often diagnosed in women than in men. And those who are already struggling with chronic conditions and other medical problems are at higher risk of developing CFS than those who are in better health.

It’s important to note that one of the leading theories about what causes CFS comes back to severe trauma, either to the body or the mind. Taking a hard fall that leads to a bone fracture and many months of recovery qualifies as a severe injury. A medical alert system with fall detection is a great safety feature for seniors aging in place. It’s a good idea to always lessen your odds of developing any serious condition by taking into account the risk factors and doing what you can to mitigate them.

What’s the Treatment for CFS?

To figure out how to best treat the symptoms of CFS, your doctor will begin by ruling out any other medical problems. They will look at the medications you are on and the chronic conditions you might have; for instance, anemia or problems with your thyroid gland can easily mimic the symptoms of CFS. You might be asked to undergo a sleep study to make sure you don’t have sleep apnea, or you might be screened for depression.

Once your doctor has determined that you probably do have chronic fatigue syndrome, there are some treatments that will help lessen the symptoms. There is no actual treatment for CFS itself.

·        Pain can be treated with over-the-counter remedies, as well as prescription drugs like Cymbalta or Lyrica. These are sometimes used to treat fibromyalgia, a condition many believe to be related to CFS.

·        Medications that regulate heart rhythm and blood pressure can be good for alleviating the dizziness many might feel when they stand up.

·        CFS and depression seem to go hand-in-hand. Medications for depression and anxiety can help with low mood, and might help improve sleep and ease pain.

·        Learning about “pacing” can help to manage the symptoms. Pacing yourself can help you figure out how far you can go with any sort of exercise before you need to pull back to preserve your energy and avoid the “crash” that occurs about 12-24 hours after the activity.

·        Any lack of sleep on top of the fatigue of CFS can make it difficult to function at all. So your doctor will address any sleep issues you might have. For instance, you might be prescribed medicine to help you sleep, or a C-pap machine to help you breathe well at night if you suffer from sleep apnea.

CFS can be very unpredictable. You might feel the symptoms for weeks on end then suddenly feel better for a while. You might feel great in the morning and by evening you’re barely able to function. The changes might not be gradual – you might feel a wave of exhaustion overtake you without warning. If you suspect you have CFS, it’s a good idea to consider wearing an emergency response solution at all times. CFS symptoms can strike anytime, anywhere. Having an on-the-go mobile medical alarm can allow you to remain active but be prepared for those moments when you struggle with fatigue and other symptoms.

And remember that while a medical alert device is ideal for getting quick help in the aftermath of a fall, it’s also great for dealing with any other type of emergencies. If you are managing CFS, Alert1 can help bring some peace of mind knowing that help is always a simple button press away.