Many women are used to juggling priorities, including busy careers, demanding social lives, and coordinating the schedules of partners, children, or parents. In between finding time for so many priorities, it can be easy for sleep to suffer. But sleep may not be the only thing that’s suffering.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), which affects more than one million Americans, is an often-debilitating illness that can impact the quality of life for those affected by it. And, overwhelmingly, it’s women.
“Women are four times more likely to be affected by CFS than men, but we have yet to determine why that is. It could be because women are more likely to report their symptoms, but it may also be because women are more likely to struggle with sleep disorders,” explains Damaris Wessel, DO, family practice physician at Main Line HealthCare Family Medicine in Bryn Mawr. “Even though we can’t pinpoint the link between women and CFS, we do know that an incredible number of women are suffering from this every day, and some of them have been suffering with it for years.”
And ‘suffering’ is the right word, too. While chronic fatigue syndrome might sound like a fancy name for feeling tired, the illness is marked by more than just weariness. CFS is marked by symptoms like extreme exhaustion and physical pain, which can cause women who are affected by it to be bedridden, take more sick days, or cancel their plans as a result of their discomfort.
In making a diagnosis, health care providers look for these telltale signs:
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Extreme physical or mental exhaustion
- Joint or muscle pain, which can move throughout the body
- Trouble concentrating or loss of memory
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck and armpit
If you’ve been experiencing symptoms like these for an extended period of time, typically six months or more, then it may be time to make an appointment.
Testing for chronic fatigue syndrome
Despite its prevalence, there are no diagnostic tests available for CFS.
“Even though CFS can be such a debilitating disease, there are, unfortunately, no tests available to diagnose it,” says Dr. Wessel. “Much of the testing actually involves first ruling out other health conditions, like sleep disorders or behavioral health issues, because their symptoms are so similar to those of CFS.”
Once a diagnosis is made, you can work closely with your health care provider to determine the right treatment plan for you.
“Unfortunately, there are only a couple of proven interventions that have been found to be helpful for CFS, including a regimented exercise plan and behavioral therapy. Medications may be used to help with underlying disorders. Based on the severity of your symptoms, you and your provider can decide what’s best for you.”
If you’re experiencing symptoms, don’t think twice about speaking up.
“Many women discount their symptoms and assume that being tired is part of life, or that their joint pain or foggy mental state could be easily fixed with a quick nap. But if your life is constantly being interrupted by pain or you feel that you’re having trouble performing daily tasks, talk to your health care provider about your concerns,” says Dr. Wessel.
Main Line Health offers a comprehensive program of women’s health services to meet your needs and those of your family. Our health care experts are uniquely qualified to address the special concerns of all women. Visit our website for more information on our women’s health services. To stay up-to-date on our health news and events, follow along with Main Line Health on Facebook and Twitter.