What It Feels Like
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and its painful cousin fibromyalgia (FMS) are characterized by a mix of severe exhaustion, insomnia and "brain fog" symptoms. In fibromyalgia, widespread pain is also present.
CFS can begin gradually or suddenly. When it occurs gradually, it's most often triggered by hormonal problems (for example, low thyroid), autoimmune illnesses (such as lupus), or candida overgrowth. It can also begin suddenly, feeling like a drop-dead flu that you can't fully recover from. Other common symptoms may include:
- Increased thirst
- Bowel disorders
- Recurring sinus or respiratory infections
- Weight gain (an average 32 ½ pounds)
- Low libido
There are literally dozens of other symptoms as well.
CFS's cousin, fibromyalgia syndrome, is characterized by severe pain—sometimes all over the body and sometimes only in specific areas. These painful areas can be transient or persistent. FMS pain is initially caused by a shortening or tightening of the muscles caused by decreased energy in the body. It's similar to the way your muscles get tight after a heavy workout. Restoring energy production is the key to helping the muscles relax and the pain to go away.
The chronic muscle pain also triggers nerve pain and central sensitization, which results in a feeling of "brain pain." There are actually seven distinct types of pain in fibromyalgia, all of which can be effectively treated.
Diagnosing CFS and Fibromyalgia
Although there are dozens of health tests that can be performed that will reveal abnormalities that indicate fibromyalgia, I don't find any of them necessary for making the diagnosis. The combination of inability to sleep despite being exhausted, feeling brain fogged, and experiencing widespread pain is generally enough to indicate fibromyalgia. The health organizations CDC and ACR have established a checklist of criteria that can assess the possibility that you have either of these illnesses. If you'd like to see what this checklist predicts for you, take the CFS/FMS Checklist quiz here at our site.
Although medical testing is not absolutely necessary to make the diagnosis, very thorough testing is needed to determine the underlying causes of the illness in order to design an effective treatment protocol.
What Causes These Illnesses?
These syndromes reflect an energy crisis in your body. Any mix of causes that results in decreased energy production and increased energy demand can bring on CFS and fibromyalgia. Typical causes include infections, stresses and injuries.
CFS/FMS acts like a "circuit breaker." When energy production and demand are out of balance, your hypothalamus responds by decreasing its function in order to protect you in the face of what it perceives to be overwhelming stress. Your hypothalamus essentially becomes a "blown fuse." This critical almond sized center in your brain controls sleep, hormones, temperature, blood flow, blood pressure, and sweating (autonomic function). When you don't get adequate deep sleep, your immune system stops working properly and you begin to feel pain. In addition, when your muscles don't have enough energy, they begin to "get stuck" in shortened positions, which brings on even more pain (think rigor mortis).
In some of you the illness was caused by an infection of some type. If so, you can often pinpoint the moment your illness began almost to the day. This is also the case in those of you who had an injury (even a mild one) 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), even if you've had blood tests that declared your numbers to be "normal." In still 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, CFS and fibromyalgia.
Understanding all of this helps us understand the symptom complex seen in CFS and fibromyalgia. Restoring energy production so that your hypothalamic "circuit breaker" turns back on and eliminating whatever "blew your fuse" in the first place is therefore the key to effective treatment!