Chronic fatigue is a serious long-term illness. It can be associated with an ongoing medical condition or occur alone due to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).
Chronic fatigue is defined by extreme fatigue that doesn’t change with increased rest or sleep. It may increase after performing physical or mental activities. Identifying what causes chronic fatigue is a complex process because the condition can be a symptom of many other illnesses, a side effect of medication, or a result of genetic or lifestyle factors.
Because of the complexities of this illness, it’s important to have appropriate medical care. Treating chronic fatigue is a specialty of John Humiston, MD, Medical Director of Emerald Neuro-Recover, of Carmel, Indiana. Dr. Humiston uses his expertise in both traditional and functional medicines to diagnose chronic fatigue and address contributing factors with innovative, effective treatments.
Dr. Humiston helps patients with chronic fatigue originating from many different causes. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the condition can be associated with some of the following potential causes:
You may be more susceptible to chronic fatigue after having a cold, flu, or other infection. It can occur more often among individuals who have been infected with the Epstein-Barr virus, which is the same virus that causes mononucleosis; and Coxiella burnetti, the bacteria that causes Q fever. According to the CDC, up to 10% of those who’ve been infected with the Ross River virus, Epstein-Barr virus, or Coxiella burnetti bacteria will develop chronic fatigue symptoms after their infections.
Changes in your immune system
Cases of ME/CFS mimic autoimmune diseases that trick your immune system into destroying healthy tissue. The fact that chronic fatigue is more common among women and is often associated with increased inflammation, like many autoimmune diseases, indicates there may be a relationship between the two types of conditions.
In a 2018 study on the link between immune systems and CFS, scientists at King’s College in London reported a correlation between CFS and an overactive immune system. The study gave reason for more research into the possibility that the onset of chronic fatigue may be tied to an exaggerated immune response to a trigger, such as a virus or stress.
Being part of a specific demographic group can also increase your likelihood of having chronic fatigue. For example, the number of women who experience ME/CFS is two to four times higher than men, according to the Office on Women’s Health.
Chronic fatigue is also more common among people between the ages of 40 and 60 and among whites. However, scientists believe that many individuals of other races and ethnicities may be affected, but undiagnosed, according to the CDC.
Studies of twins and families indicate that more than one member of the same family can have chronic fatigue. Evidence points toward genetic and environmental factors as potential links to a cause of chronic fatigue, though further research is needed.
Changes in body chemistry
You’re more likely to experience chronic fatigue due to changes in body chemistry that occur as a result of physical or emotional stress from illness. According to the CDC, patients reporting chronic fatigue often demonstrate low levels of the hormone cortisol.
When you’re sick, cortisol helps to reduce inflammation and regulate your immune response. A reduction in normal cortisol levels, especially at times of increased stress, can affect many different bodily functions, including blood sugar levels, metabolism, inflammation, resulting in symptoms of chronic fatigue.
Diagnosing chronic fatigue
In a comprehensive study of ME/CFS, the National Academy of Medicine reported that the condition affects up to 2.5 million Americans. Many people experience chronic fatigue and don’t seek medical attention because they think they simply aren’t getting enough rest.
You may have chronic fatigue if you have any of these symptoms for six months or more:
- Profound fatigue that reduces your ability to do daily activities
- Feeling tired after sleep or rest
- Joint and/or muscle pain
- Memory loss and/or inability to concentrate
- Increase in these symptoms after physical or mental activities
Don’t ignore the signs if you think you’re experiencing chronic fatigue. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Humiston online or by calling the office. Your visit will lead to a confirmed diagnosis and treatments that can help improve your symptoms and overall quality of life.