Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), is sometimes also grouped with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and labeled as ME/CFS. These two (possibly interchangeable) conditions were recognized as long ago as 1969 by the World Health Organization as neurological disorders. Despite that realization by researchers, many in the medical establishment refused to recognize the condition as real, instead choosing to interpret the malady as psychosomatic. The thought was that something real was going on, but it stemmed from stressors on the body because of anxiety, depression, hypochondria, or an initial bout of “real” illness that led to a psychological reaction. Some in the medical establishment may have gone a step further and said that it was a cyclical process, that the more you suffered from the psychological effects, the worse the physical effects became- in other words, it was “all in your head”, but now it’s in your body as well because you became so stressed out over the inability to function. We’ve come a long way since then- or have we?
Despite the legion of patients who knew something was really wrong, it took a long time for many practitioners to accept the fact that this was a real condition, what might cause it, and how it could be treated. In fact, you can still easily find practitioners who don’t take the condition seriously or don’t have any idea what to look for and diagnose it. We tend to think of the medical community as being cutting-edge, always aware of the latest science, and fully cognizant of how all of the body’s systems work together, even in the most subtle ways. The truth is, that much of the medical community is slow to change, conservative in thought, and not ready to recognize things they were not taught in medical school. A top doctor at a major research hospital is likely to be very aware of new research, and more likely to understand a changing understanding of a complex condition like CFS. An older primary care provider, trained years, or decades ago at a traditional medical school may not keep up with the medical journals- any more than the bare minimum they need for CMEs (continuing medical education). It can take years for any new paradigm of thinking in medicine to trickle down to a standard practitioner’s office- if it ever does. It’s hard to keep up with new ideas, a holistic way of seeing the body, or to really listen to the truths that a patient tells you about their own body when you are overworked, see 50 patients a day, and don’t stray from a very narrow pathway of diagnoses and treatments that you are comfortable with- particularly when insurance companies often pull the strings in as much as they will determine what are valid diagnoses and treatments for many medical groups. In fact, many insurers still don’t accept CFS as a valid diagnosis and will refuse to pay for short or long-term disability as this article from STAT explained in 2018.
Why is it taking so long for the medical establishment as a whole to accept CFS as real, diagnosable, and treatable? To start with, CFS is complex. It’s characterized by a range of symptoms: fatigue, lack of energy, brain fog, inability to concentrate, faltering memory, post-exercise exhaustion, weakness, headaches, joint pain, depression, and wanting to retreat from the world. Patients may have several or all of these symptoms in addition to others. It’s also categorized as a condition that may have many origins, either singly, or combined: long-term impact from a virus (possibly including long COVID), thyroid disruptions, inflammation in the gut, blood sugar dysregulation, autoimmune conditions, adrenal fatigue, anemia, accumulation of toxins, and a number of other things may contribute. Again, patients may have a number of causes for the condition or just one or two undiagnosed etiologies. The combination of multiple symptoms and multiple possible causes, many of which could be reinforcing one another, means that a deeper understanding of the patient’s own history and a more holistic viewpoint of how the body’s systems interact are necessary for discovering and treating this condition. Appointments that allow enough time with the patient, and a medical outlook that looks at the body as a whole instead of just a specialization are necessary. Intervening to support the body healing itself instead of targeting symptoms piecemeal is necessary. Many traditional physicians, operating in an environment where they must see a huge number of patients every day, and are not trained to look synergistically at the body, may not see the connections. This is unfortunate since it’s estimated that about 2 million people in the United States suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Many CFS patients have complained of seeking answers for years with their standard doctors and only finally seeing a path forward when encountering a clinic with a more holistic philosophy, like Progressive Medical Center. Progressive Medical Center has been diagnosing and treating conditions like CFS for years with an open mind. Patients have enough time to tell their stories to help the medical team get to the root of the problem and make a diagnosis that can start the path of healing instead of just trying the next doctor when the limited range of options is exhausted. Progressive Medical Center’s team is composed of a variety of different professionals who can all support the patient in different ways, and all with one thing in common- they are trained to view the patient as a whole and to support the body to heal itself. Trusting that your doctor will truly engage with you is the most important way to manage your CFS, as a very recent review of CFS (Sapra and Bhandari, July 2, 2022): “The most crucial factor for patients to successfully cope with CFS is establishing a strong relationship with an experienced health care provider. Having a provider that patients can trust, who listens to them and understands that their symptoms are real, can be validating and helpful.”
If you’ve experienced any so far unexplained symptoms that leave you exhausted and out of it, your place to start is with a team that takes you seriously- and starts a path that may finally lead to you feeling more like yourself again.