What Are CFS and Fibromyalgia?

Posted on Oct 30, 2013 in Health & Wellness, Medical Rewind

Chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS or CFS) is a group of symptoms associated with severe, almost unrelenting fatigue. The main symptom is fatigue that results in constant and substantial reduction in your activity level. Oddly, despite their constant exhaustion, people with CFS typically find that they can’t sleep.

CFS can begin gradually, usually following a period of severe physical or emotional stress. It can also begin suddenly, feeling like a “drop dead flu” that you can’t fully recover from. Other common symptoms may include:

  • Insomnia
  • Achiness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Brain fog
  • Increased thirst
  • Bowel disorders
  • Recurring infections
  • Easily exhausted
  • Weight gain
  • Low libido

CFS’s sister illness, fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS or FM), is characterized by muscle pain — sometimes all over the body, or sometimes only in specific areas. These painful areas can be transient or persistent. FM pain is caused by a shortening, or tightening of the muscles. These muscles need sleep and nutrition, among other things, in order to heal. Since CFS/FM sufferers rarely sleep well, these muscles stay knotted and painful. For most sufferers, CFS and FM are the same illness. However, some people have fatigue without pain, whereas others have pain without fatigue.

Causes & Therapies

There is no one specific lab test to confirm that you have CFS or fibromyalgia. Because of this and other limitations in lab testing, diagnosis is often made by a practitioner and patient after medical evaluation and lab testing have eliminated other possible causes. An experienced practitioner can see subtle nuances in traditional blood testing that indicate CFS/FMS. Because of the need to exclude other disorders with similar symptoms, such as Lyme’s Disease, MS or depression, it can often take months of evaluation before a person realizes they have CFS/FMS.

What Causes These Illnesses?

Hypothalamic dysfunction. The hypothalamus is the body’s master gland and can be likened to the main circuit in your home’s breaker box. The hypothalamus is weakened by long term exposure to physical or emotional stress, which will cause it to “blow.” When the main fuse blows, all of the systems regulated by the hypothalamus malfunction. These systems include the glands (affecting the thyroid, adrenals, and sex hormones), the autonomic system (which regulates body temperature, blood pressure, and the anti diuretic hormone), and the sleep center.

People with CFS/FM typically suffer from a combination of different problems. The pattern can include infections (viral or bacterial), insomnia and hormonal problems. Other possible underlying issues include immune system dysfunction, mild chronic low blood pressure, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), and iron deficiency anemia.

What Causes CFS?

CFS/FMS acts as a “circuit breaker,” with the hypothalamus decreasing its function to protect the individual in the face of what is perceived to be an overwhelming stress (just like blowing a fuse/circuit breaker in a house). This center controls sleep, hormones, temperature, and blood flow/blood pressure/sweating. When you don’t sleep deeply, your immune system also stops working properly and you’ll be in pain. In addition, if your muscles do not have enough energy, they will get stuck in the shortened position and you will be in pain (think rigor mortis). This “energy crisis” can be caused by any of a number of infections, stresses, or injuries.

Some of you had your illness caused by any of a number of infections. In this situation, you can often give the time that your illness began almost to the day. This is also the case in those of you who had an injury (sometimes very mild) that was enough to disrupt your sleep and trigger this process. In others the illness had a more gradual onset. This may have been associated with hormonal deficiencies (e.g., low thyroid, estrogen, testosterone, cortisone, etc.) despite normal blood tests. In others, it may be associated with chronic stress, antibiotic use with secondary yeast overgrowth, and/or nutritional deficiencies. Indeed, we have found well over 100 common causes of, and factors that contribute to, these syndromes.

Understanding this helps us understand the symptom complex seen in CFS/fibromyalgia. Restoring energy production so that your hypothalamic circuit breaker turns back on and eliminating what blew your fuse in the first place also gives your practitioner a way to effectively treat you!

Tending to the below can help you maintain healthy energy levels when you are well, and can help support recovery when dealing with CFS and fibromyalgia.

S =
SLEEP: Get adequate sleep, preferably eight to nine hours a night. Sleep replenishes the body’s energy and heals its muscles. Inadequate sleep will leave you exhausted and in pain.
H =
HORMONES: Get tested for hormone deficiency and treated if needed. Hormone deficiencies can contribute to fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.
I =
IMMUNITY: Get treatment when symptoms of infections occur. The lack of restorative sleep in CFS/FM leads to dysfunctional immune systems. Underlying viral, bacterial, bowel, sinus and yeast infections are common and can be a contributing cause or result of CFS/FM.
N =
NUTRITON: To maintain normal health and optimal energy levels you need to be sure you body is getting a proper balance of nutrition, particularly as nutritional deficiencies can result from CFS/FM. Vitamin B-12, magnesium, Acetyl L-Carnitine, glutathione, as well as your basic A, B, C and D vitamins are especially vulnerable to depletion from this.
E =
EXERCISE: Exercise as able. After 10 weeks on the 4 steps above, you will be able to slowly increase your exercise-without being wiped out the next day!