What Causes Extreme or Chronic Fatigue (and Treatments)?

A Definition of Extreme (or Chronic) Fatigue

Fatigue that is persistent in nature, does not improve with adequate rest, and hinders a person’s ability to carry out normal, daily activities is referred to as chronic fatigue. Such fatigue is accompanied by other symptoms that can include sleep abnormalities, problems with memory, headaches, trouble concentrating, pain, weakness and overall discomfort. A person suffers from chronic fatigue if the fatigue cannot be linked to an existing medical or psychological condition. 

When diagnosed, extreme/chronic fatigue is referred to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and has also been known as Immune Dysfunction Syndrome; Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME); or Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease (SEID).

Causes of Chronic Fatigue

A lot of speculation and ambiguity surrounds the exact cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, as no one underlying cause can be positively linked to all those who suffer from the condition. There are, however, several possibilities that are used to explain the existence of extreme/chronic fatigue:

  • Dysfunctional Immune System—the immune system does not respond correctly (either it overreacts or underreacts) in some patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, causing several of the symptoms linked to the condition to occur in these individuals.
  • Virus/infections—certain infections may trigger CFS, to name a few: Epstein-Barr virus infection (mononucleosis), human herpesvirus 6 infection or rubella. These infections have been found in some patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and are considered as a possible cause.
  • Abnormal blood pressure—low blood pressure or a rapid heart rate have been found in some patients suffering from CFS, leading researchers to believe this factor may be a cause.
  • Hormone abnormalities/chemical imbalances—high levels of serotonin, low levels of cortisol, irregularities in the circadian clock (group of nerve cells that regulate sleep-wake cycle) have been found in some patients who have been diagnosed with CFS.
  • Genetic defects—genes play a role in a person’s immune system, response to stress and presence of infections. Because these factors affect those who suffer from CFS, there is speculation that genetic makeup could also be linked as a possible cause of CFS.
  • Stress – The relationship between stress – experiencing adversity in early childhood during brain development, for instance, or a serious car accident in adulthood – is not fully understood, though there is an increased risk of chronic fatigue in individuals who have experienced such circumstances.

Treatment of Chronic Fatigue

Because there is so much uncertainty surrounding the exact cause(s) of chronic fatigue syndrome, treatment involves managing the symptoms of the condition. Primarily, a change in one’s lifestyle is the most effective and prescribed way to treat extreme/chronic fatigue. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle includes:

  • Good nutrition—a healthy diet causes your body to function properly because the body receives the necessary, needed fuel. Thus, your energy level increases because your body is getting the proper nutrients it needs to function.
  • A consistent sleeping routine—there are several recommended techniques that lead to a higher probability of a good night’s rest. Quieting your mind, breathing exercises, relaxation practices and a peaceful sleeping environment, all will lead to a consistent, good night’s rest.
  • Moderate exercise—a consistent exercise routine goes hand in hand with patients feeling more energized and less fatigued. Exercise keeps your blood flowing smoothly, helps you regulate your weight and can even benefit your emotional health as exercise reduces stress. Exercise can even spur on an energy boost, as oxygen and nutrients are delivered to your tissues, allowing for your heart and lungs to work better.
  • A balanced schedule—this includes organizing your tasks and responsibilities so that your routine becomes more manageable, allowing time for proper rest, healthy eating and moderate exercise.
  • Certain medicines (prescribed by your health care provider)—some medications may be recommended by your physician to relieve some of the pain and other symptoms associated with chronic fatigue. Medication is very specific to the individual and the symptoms the individual experiences in relation to chronic fatigue.

Immune Supplements for Chronic Fatigue

Extreme fatigue and chronic fatigue impact more than merely your level of alertness; fatigue affects your entire body and every physiological system. Over time, chronic fatigue can weaken your immune system, leaving you feeling even more tired – ultimately, it becomes a continuous cycle.

Immune supplements, particularly those with probiotics, can help to boost your body’s immune response to ward off illnesses that would otherwise start the self-reinforcing cycle of illness, increased fatigue, and weakened immunity. Additionally, some research has shown that the right balance of healthy bacteria in the gut can actually reduce the symptoms of chronic fatigue in some individuals.

As with any chronic illness or health condition, it is recommended that you speak with your health care provider about all of your symptoms and history of health. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, however, is always the goal for anyone with a chronic condition as it is highly beneficial to one’s well-being.

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