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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is a chronic condition characterized by debilitating fatigue and an array of other symptoms. It is estimated by the Canadian Community Health Survey (2005) that at least three percent of Canadians have been diagnosed with the condition and many more cases likely go undiagnosed. CFS/ME is far more prevalent among women, and usually affects people in their 40s and 50s but can affect a person of any age.

Irene's story illustrates how the illness can develop, its characteristic symptoms and coping strategies:

Irene's Story

Five years ago, Irene was an active 35-year-old woman who worked full-time as an accountant for a small business, tended to her two children and enjoyed jogging. Others described her as being "full of energy" and always "on the go."

One day, Irene came down with a bad case of the flu. Two weeks later, she felt a little better, but was still tired and achy. She decided that she would go to work as she thought that getting "up and out" would make her feel better.

During the short walk from the subway to her office, she started to get a headache and feel extremely tired. After about an hour at the office, while reading her email, Irene could no longer focus on the words, and reading became impossible. She experienced an overwhelming fatigue that "hit her like a brick." Irene was driven home by a colleague who later told others, "I practically had to carry her to the car."

Upon arriving home, Irene was bedridden for two months, barely able to get up the energy to brush her teeth. She had aches and pains all over, and felt hot and cold intermittently. She tried to watch TV, but could not concentrate on what people were saying. She felt totally debilitated, helpless and frightened.

Very slowly, Irene regained some of her energy, but was unable to ride a bike with her children, do routine household chores, work for more than one hour per day, or even socialize without experiencing severe fatigue afterward.

This was completely devastating to Irene, as she had been so full of energy in the past, and had enjoyed her work, playing with her children and socializing with her family and friends. She felt extremely guilty, as she was no longer contributing to the household income and her husband had to take over many of the household and childcare duties. This was putting a strain on their marriage.

After seeing many doctors, Irene was diagnosed with CFS/ME.

Eventually, with the help of her doctor and a CFS/ME support group, she learned more about the illness. She learned how to take care of herself by listening to her body’s needs. She learned to pace herself, to avoid "crashing" after she exerted herself. She learned to cope with the grief of losing the life she had once had, to reduce her stress and relax, and to get the help she needed with household tasks, such as cooking and cleaning. These all helped her cope with her illness and allowed her body to start healing.

As her health improved, Irene rediscovered her love of drawing, which helped her to relax. As her energy level increased, she was able to do more activities. As Irene's husband learned to understand and accept his wife's illness, their relationship improved.

 

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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Medical description

Diagnosis

Living with CFS/ME

Activity and exercise

Relaxation

Sleep

Diet

Pain relief

Environment

Coping emotionally


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