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What is the Connection Between Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia?

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  • Written By: L. Jablonsky
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2016
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Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia (FM) are chronic illnesses that share several symptoms. Both illnesses can exhibit flu-like symptoms, including a sore throat and fever, along with pain and fatigue. CFS sufferers tend to experience more profound fatigue, while patients suffering from fibromyalgia deal with more severe chronic pain. The two illnesses are often grouped together in research and publications about chronic illnesses.

Historically, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia were both rather controversial illnesses. Some people identify these illnesses as an "invisible disease," as many patients do not usually exhibit obvious external signs of illness, such as rashes or jaundiced skin. Some physicians initially diagnose patients suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia-related symptoms with psychological conditions or other illnesses.

Both chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia patients exhibit very similar flu-like symptoms. People with CFS or fibromyalgia may get sick more often, experiencing chronic sore throat, nasal congestion, and fever for a few months at a time. They often struggle with debilitating fatigue and constant pain. Typically, FM patients experience more incapacitating pain, describing deep muscle aches, throbbing or burning pain. Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, regardless of intelligence level, may experience impaired cognitive functions. Often they find it more difficult to process and memorize information, resulting in difficulties with work and study.

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Both illnesses are also marked by fatigue and unproductive sleep. Studies indicated that chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia patients showed abnormalities in brain waves throughout the sleep cycle. CFS and FM patients often seem to experience inadequate periods of Stage 3 and 4 non-REM sleep. These stages are vital for restoration and healing. Some people with these conditions will also struggle with sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea.

Physicians used to often diagnose CFS patients with chronic Epstein-Barr virus (CEPV). After United States Centers for Disease Control adopted the term "chronic fatigue syndrome" in 1988, opponents protested that the name trivialized the seriousness of the illness. Outside of the United States, CFS is known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).

There is no set way of diagnosing fibromyalgia, but many physicians use "tender point" exams and a concept called "the pain index." As a part of the tender point exams, physicians apply pressure to 18 different spots on the body. If the spots are tender or the patient experiences pain in more than 11 of the areas, he or she is considered positive for fibromyalgia. The pain index involves a 19-item checklist, and patients rate the areas on a scale of 1 to 3.

There is no cure for chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Many patients can take medications to help alleviate the pain and other symptoms. Others suffering from CFS or FM opt for an alternative approach, using holistic methods to induce a deep sleep, alleviate pain, and get more energy. Other patients have reported some relief by adjusting their diet, eliminating dairy and gluten products.

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