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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also referred to as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), is a debilitating illness with many disabling symptoms. This complex and serious disease affects many body systems and individuals with ME/CFS are typically not able to do their usual activities.
Many people with ME/CFS have severe fatigue, pain, and sleep problems. Other symptoms can include dizziness, problems with thinking, and concentrating. However, ME/CFS might get worse, and confine suffers to bed after they try to do everything they need or want to do.
Nowadays, there is no specific medication for treating CFS/ME, but some medications can be used to relieve its symptoms. So, let’s discuss what causes chronic fatigue syndrome, and what are the possible treatment options?
What Causes CFS/ME?
The underlying cause of ME is still largely unknown. A combination of genetic, environmental, infectious, and psychological factors are understood to be predisposing factors, whilst viral infections, injury, chronic stress, and sleep disturbances are also thought to play a significant role in triggering the illness.
Recent studies have attempted to reveal the biomarkers of CFS/ME in patients. A study at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine recently identified a characteristic chemical signature of CFS/ME in blood plasma relating to reduced metabolism. Whilst researchers at Stanford University found that T cells – a type of lymphocyte that plays a major role in the immune system, are overactivated in the blood of CFS/ME patients, providing evidence that CFS/ME is related to a hyper-inflammatory response of the immune system.
A 2017 paper also reported that elevated cytokines – cells involved in the immune system response, correlated to the severity of CFS/ME in patients. Researchers hope by uncovering the specific biology of CFS/ME, their work will lead to more rapid and accurate diagnosis as well as effective therapies.
Covid-19 & CFS/ME
As viral infections are commonly linked to the onset of CFS/ME, studies are in the planning stages to decipher whether people experiencing long-tailCovid – where Covid-19 symptoms continue for weeks or months following a coronavirus infection, may develop CFS/ME or similar illnesses. A study conducted by the British Medical Association (BMA) researching long Covid reported that one-third of doctors have seen or treated patients with long term Covid-19 symptoms, such as chronic fatigue, muscle weakness, and concentration difficulties – all symptoms connected to CFS/ME. Interestingly, David Putrino, a neuroscientist and rehabilitation specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in the US, conducted a survey on Covid-19 long-haulers and found that most were women, with an average age of 44. Putrino’s findings were significant as long-haulers tend to be in the same age range and sex as the majority of CFS/ME patients.
As we continue to live under the Coronavirus pandemic and infection numbers rise, alongside people living with long term Covid, support groups such as LongCovidSOS are available and have been pushing the government and medical associations to conduct further research into chronic illnesses that occur after viral infections.
CFS/ME is challenging to treat as the condition features multiple symptoms that are experienced differently by every patient. Currently, there are no specific treatments for CFS/ME available on the NHS. However, doctors offer treatments that are tailored to the patient’s symptoms. Often Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is recommended to patients with mild to moderate symptoms. CBT is a common type of talking therapy that aims to modify the way a patient relates to, behaves, and thinks about their condition, in the hope that a CFS/ME sufferer can accept their diagnosis and find ways to change behavior to improve their condition.
Other non-medical treatments include Graded Exercise Therapy (GET) and Activity management. Both of these treatments involve structured plans to gradually increase activity levels and endurance based on the individual’s condition and goals. Under the NHS, doctors can also prescribe medication to CFS/ME patients to help relieve symptoms. Commonly, painkillers such as paracetamol are prescribed to reduce muscle and joint pains. Antidepressants such as Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and Duloxetine may also help lessen pains; however, these often come with adverse side effects such as lethargy and daytime cognitive impairment.
Alternative Treatment Options: CBD Oil
Although there is no specific research on the effects of CFS/ME and CBD, there is a load of anecdotal evidence online and studies that research CBD with symptoms connected to CFS/ME report that CBD is a therapeutic agent to relieve, lessen and manage symptoms of CFS/ME. So with all of this popularity around CBD oil… what is it?
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a naturally occurring compound that is found in the cannabis plant and known to interfere with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is responsible for various processes in the body such as inflammation, pain, stress, mood, sleep, appetite, memory, and many others. Positive effect on ECS allows to bring all functions in proper balance and provide relief from extreme inflammation, severe pain or high levels of stress. What’s more, CBD can be used in various forms, such as CBD vape oil, capsules, topicals, edibles, etc. You may choose how often and what particular form of CBD to incorporate into your lifestyle. Each method of intake has a different onset time and delivers various amounts of cannabidiol.
Research suggests that CFS/ME is an inflammatory condition, especially neuroinflammation. Since cannabidiol is known to be effective against inflammation, people with CFS/ME should be able to benefit from CBD supplementation. Also, if you are subjected to CFS/ME, you might also have trouble sleeping. Fortunately, research has shown that CBD interacts with the brain’s CB2 receptors, which are responsible for regulating sleep. Therefore, CBD may work as an effective treatment for insomnia symptoms, meaning CBD products can be beneficial for some CFS/ME sufferers.
As always, CBD is likely not the be-all and end-all to CFS/ME suffering, so continue to keep focused on a healthy mindset and treatments available on the NHS as well.