Chronic Fatigue Syndrome may or may not be preceded by a viral infection. Each case may or may not include some of the common symptoms: recurrent sore throat, cough, fever, headache, digestive problems, nausea, loss of appetite, weight fluctuations, swollen lymph glands, rashes, muscle twitching, palpitations, dizziness, clumsiness, lack of concentration, difficulty articulating speech, chills or overheating, pins and needle feelings or numbness. Additionally, women with CFS may notice that their symptoms are worse premenstrual.
One of the issues that make CFS so frustrating is that symptoms vary with individuals and there is no clear diagnosis for the disease. There is currently no single medical test that clearly marks CFS.
It is only after a barrage of testing has eliminated a long list of other diseases that a Chronic Fatigue Syndrome diagnosis can be made. Even then, many medical practitioners miss the mark of a proper diagnosis.
There are two common markers of CFS in the four elite athletes I interviewed. The first common thread is all of their performances in their respective sports were going extraordinarily well shortly before they were hit with CFS. The second thing they all share is a distinct moment in time, permanently etched in their memory, when they slipped into the abyss of fatigue—a fatigue beyond explanation. Some of them fell more than once.
Another illness-creating fatigue, and thought to be close relative of chronic fatigue, is fibromyalgia. CFS and fibromyalgia were once categorized to be one-in-the-same, but that is no longer the case.
Fibromyalgia is a disorder in which the tissue holding the muscle together (myofascia) becomes tightened or thickened, causing pain. "Fibro," meaning connective tissue, and "myalgia," meaning muscle pain, combine as fibromyalgia, a painful muscle disorder. While muscles are affected by fibromyalgia, the entire body seems affected by CFS.
A second illness, Epstein-Barr virus, was also formerly categorized as CFS. In the 1980s, the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) was thought to be the sole or major contributing cause for CFS, but that is no longer the case. People with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome may or may not have EBV antibodies in their blood.
Recovering From CFS
One of the leading authorities on CFS, Dr. Jesse A. Stoff, believes the first step to recovering from CFS is to put any viruses involved into remission. This may include addressing any secondary bacterial infections.
His second step to recovery is to repair cellular and systemic damage. This includes rebuilding the immune system. Rebuilding the immune system is no easy task as its "workers" are various white blood cells including 1 trillion lymphocytes and 100 million trillion antibodies produced and secreted by lymphocytes. High numbers of lymphocytes are found in the lymph nodes, bone marrow, the thymus gland and the spleen.
The immune system is complicated. Major players in the immune system include antibodies, lymph nodes, thymus, spleen, lymphocytes, immunoglobulins (there are five major types), B cells, T cells, helper T cells, natural killer cells, macrophages, neutrophils, interferon and interleukin.
One of the athletes I interviewed, H.A., who has a PhD in microbiology, theorizes that CFS can be diagnosed; but we may not currently have the technology to find the marker, or perhaps we're looking in the wrong place. She says, "There is an underlying cause for the symptoms and when we can find the marker(s), then we can work on medications to speed recovery from the illness."
Even when we have medications available to shorten recovery time, athletes still need to address the circumstances and behaviors that lead to the onset of the disease. This is Dr. Stoff's third step in recovery, to "learn the lessons of the disease." While the specifics of each of the four athlete's stories are slightly different, there are common threads.
Part II covers more about the athletes I interviewed, R.C. (cyclist), G.D. (triathlete), H.A. (cyclist) and W.H. (triathlete). I'll cover some of the circumstances leading to their fall into this abyss, their battles to recover, what helped them recover, warning signs that alert them when trouble is near and their recommendations on how to avoid CFS.
- Goldberg, Burton, Alternative Guide to Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia & Environmental Illness, Future Medicine Publishing, 1998.
- Locke, Dr. Andrew, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, http://www.drlockie.com
- The Encyclopaedia of Sports Medicine, Endurance in Sport, Second Edition, An IOC Medical Commission Publication, published by Blackwell Sciences Ltd., pp. 486-504, 2000.