What Is CFIDS?
Chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS) is a serious and complex illness that affects many different body systems. There is no known cause. It is characterized by incapacitating fatigue, neurological problems and numerous other symptoms. CFIDS can be severely debilitating and can last for many years.
The symptoms vary from person to person and fluctuate in severity. Specific symptoms may come and go, complicating treatment and the PWCs ability to cope with the illness. Most symptoms are invisible, which makes it difficult for others to understand the vast array of debilitating symptoms that PWCs have.
CFIDS is often misdiagnosed because it is frequently unrecognized and can resemble other disorders including mononucleosis, multiple sclerosis (MS), fibromyalgia (FM), Lyme disease, Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS) and autoimmune diseases such as Lupus. CFIDS is also known by the names chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and myalgic encephalomyelitis (M.E.)
How is CFIDS Diagnosed?
There is still no definitive test for CFIDS. According to the CFIDS case definition published in the December 15, 1994 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, clinically evaluated unexplained chronic fatigue can be classified as chronic fatigue syndrome if the patient meets both the following criteria:
- Clinically evaluated, unexplained persistent or relapsing fatigue that is of new or definite onset (i.e., not lifelong), is not the result of ongoing exertion, is not substantially alleviated by rest, and results in substantial reduction in previous levels of occupational, educational, social or personal activities.
- The concurrent occurrence of four or more of the following symptoms: substantial impairment in short-term memory or concentration; sore throat; tender lymph nodes; muscle pain; multi-joint pain without joint swelling or redness; headaches of a new type, pattern or severity; unrefreshing sleep; and post-exertional malaise lasting more than 24 hours. These symptoms must have persisted or recurred during six or more consecutive months of illness and must not have pre-dated the fatigue.
How is CFIDS Treated?
Treatment for CFIDS is intended primarily to relieve specific symptoms. It must be carefully tailored to meet the needs of each patient. Sleep disorders, pain, gastrointestinal difficulties, allergies and depression are some of the symptoms which can be relieved through the use of prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and other interventions such as physical therapy. Persons with this illness may have unusual responses to medications, so extremely low dosages should be tried first and gradually increased as appropriate.
Lifestyle changes, including increased rest, reduced stress, dietary restrictions, nutritional supplementation and minimal exercise are recommended frequently. Supportive therapy, such as counseling, can help to identify and develop effective coping strategies.
Who Gets CFIDS?
CFIDS strikes people of all age, ethnic and socio-economic groups. Most diagnosed cases in the United States are women between the ages of 25 and 45.
How Many People Have CFIDS?
A population-based study of 90,000 people in Wichita, Kansas by the CDC estimates that CFIDS affects more than 2 out of every 1000 adults. Most people identified by the study had not been diagnosed. Women have the greatest risk for this disease: more than 4 out of every 1,000, making CFIDS three times more common than HIV and breast cancer and one-third as common as diabetes.
Do PWCs Get Better?
The course of this illness varies greatly. Some people recover, some cycle between periods of relatively good health and illness and some gradually worsen over time. Others neither get better nor worse, while some improve gradually but never fully recover. CDC investigators report that the greatest chance of recovery appears to be within the first five years of illness, although individuals may recover at any stage of illness. Patients with sudden onset reported recovery nearly twice as often as those with gradual onset.
This information is excerpted from "Introducing CFIDS", published by the CFIDS Association of America. The complete brochure is included in the new member packet. Information on prevalence is taken from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's web site.