How to Treat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with Chinese Medicine
Chronic fatigue sufferers generally seek alternative treatments because modern medical treatment options are few and far between, and often come with heavy side effects.
Chinese medicine offers a unique perspective on understanding complex conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome and offers a safe and natural alternative for those who don’t accept the “do-nothing-lie-in-bed-and-wait” approach.
Chronic Fatigue Statistics Australia
It is estimated that up to 0.07% of the Australian population (over 180,000 people) fit the CFS diagnostic criteria. While this is a lot of people, many times this figure are troubled by fatigue in their daily lives, but fall outside of a CFS diagnosis.
The treatment I offer is appropriate for all people with ongoing persistent fatigue, including but not limited to those with chronic fatigue syndrome. It also treats associated illnesses such as fibromyalgia and depression.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Sydney
Read on to learn how Traditional Chinese Medicine can help you. We also offer a free report on diet and lifestyle recommendations for those seeking to learn more. See below.
Phone consultations are available for those unable to visit the clinic in North Sydney.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) Symptoms
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a disorder characterised by persistent fatigue, and accompanied by other specific symptoms, for a minimum duration of six months.
Some of the major symptoms of CFS include post-exertion malaise, fatigue that is not related to exertion and is not substantially relieved by rest, muscle weakness, generalised muscle and joint aches, sensitivity to cold, tendency to overheat and sweat with mild exertion or in bed at night, sleep disturbances, unrefreshing sleep, severe mental exhaustion, headaches, light-headedness, shortness of breath, palpitations, digestive disturbances, food intolerances, frequent colds and sore throats, depression and anxiety.
The list of symptoms, and severity of those symptoms varies widely from person to person.
While there has been some controversy surrounding the correct naming of this disorder, it is certain that it is significantly debilitating and quality of life is, often severely, impaired.
The term chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome or CFIDS, is used less frequently but is used as a synonym for chronic fatigue syndrome.
ME – Myalgic Encephalomyeitis
The term Myalgic Encephalomyeitis (ME) is often used interchangeably with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Myalgic Encephalomyeitis is a term that was in widespread use in the UK until, in the mid 90’s, the term chronic fatigue syndrome was recommended for use instead because the term ME implies pathology in the muscles and central nervous system which is not necessarily the case.
Today the term ME/CFS is regularly used, acknowledging the continuing lack of consensus and differing viewpoints on an acceptable name.
Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome (PVFS)
Post-viral fatigue syndrome (PVFS) is fatigue of more than 6 months duration following a viral infection. Influenza, Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) also known as glandular fever, are the most common offenders.
The fatigue and associated symptoms are virtually identical to those that may be experienced with chronic fatigue syndrome. In fact a viral infection is thought to be one of the potential causes of CFS.
In some cases a viral infection may not have been obvious, though the patient may recall being sick with what they thought was just a cold. A blood test will confirm the presence of a virus at some point in the past.
Regardless of whether it is called post viral fatigue or chronic fatigue syndrome, the modern medical treatment options are the same.
For those who can connect their fatigue with a definite viral event, the prognosis of a natural recovery, without intervention, tends to be better than chronic fatigue caused by other means. In saying this, you still want to treat as early as possible to increase the odds of success.
Adrenal Fatigue, Adrenal Exhaustion
Adrenal fatigue is a type of chronic fatigue. It refers to people who have been under intense and prolonged periods of stress. It includes people who describe themselves as “high energy” or a bit hyper. Constantly running on adrenaline eventually leads to burn out.
Importance of a Modern Medical Exploration of Your Condition
There are no specific laboratory tests for CFS/ME. Diagnosis comes about by fulfilling a set of criteria that confirm the duration and severity of the disability, and importantly a ruling out of other illnesses.
It is important that you explore your condition with your GP, primarily to rule out several other treatable illnesses such as hypothyroidism or diabetes, and rule out other more sinister issues like malignancies.
Of course constant fatigue is a symptom of many illnesses of which Chinese medicine may be able to assist.
Why am I Always Tired?
It is common for there to be problematic levels of tiredness and exhaustion but the overall health picture doesn’t fit the criteria for a formal CFS diagnosis, or of any other illness for that matter. This can be particularly frustrating because it leaves you without any explanation for, or solution to, your problem.
From a Chinese medical treatment perspective a modern medical diagnosis is largely irrelevant. Ongoing persistent fatigue, whether it is connected with CFS or another illness, or not, requires treatment.
Chinese medicine has its own very different understanding of the body, and a unique system of diagnosis. This allows us to operate outside of the modern medical box, and potentially explain and treat illnesses that cannot be helped by modern medicine. Regardless of your medical diagnosis, we will still assess your condition via our own system.
‘Chronic fatigue’ as the Preferred Term
I prefer the term ‘chronic fatigue’ and it is the one I have adopted throughout this site.
‘Chronic’ suggests that it is something you have been struggling with for at least a few months, and ‘fatigue’ is simply any fatigue.
The treatments are appropriate for all with ongoing persistent fatigue, in other words, chronic fatigue. This of course includes those with chronic fatigue syndrome, ME, post viral syndrome, fibromyalgia, or any other medically defined illness, and those with no clear explanation.
What Causes Chronic Fatigue?
The exact causes of CFS are unknown. A wide range of studies have hypothesised a list of possible causes. Possible causes include infections, endocrinal (hormonal), psychological, psychosocial, immunological, neurological and genetic factors.
Causes of Chronic Fatigue in Chinese Medicine
The mechanism for the development of persistent fatigue in Chinese medicine is also varied; however, in the clinic (or at least in my practise) the majority of chronic fatigue cases fall into one of two fairly broad categories.
The first category is a post pathogenic fatigue which corresponds with the Western idea of a post-viral fatigue. This type of fatigue tends to affect younger people more so. In these situations you can say “at a particular point in time I got acutely sick, and I haven’t been the same since”.
The acute pathogenic event which kick-started the fatigue is most commonly viral, for example a bad flu or glandular fever, but it can also be other infections such as those commonly picked-up whilst travelling to tropical places and third-world countries, including Dengue fever and intestinal parasites.
These types of chronic fatigue tend to have a faster and more complete rate of recovery. This is no doubt helped by the fact that the sufferer tends to be younger, and because of the sudden onset, likely to treat earlier.
Stress and Fatigue
The second category is a stress-induced fatigue. Stress is recognised as a cause of illness in Chinese medicine much more so than in modern medicine. Stress, from our view, includes intense periods of physical or mental or emotional demand, but it can be much more insidious than that. It can be simply having too much on your plate for too long.
People in this category tend to be in their 30s, 40s and 50s, often with demanding careers and/or family life. An excessively busy lifestyle can be manageable for a long time – 10 or 20 or 30 years. But then something happens to bring about a fatigue that is much deeper that previously.
It is often just a case of too much for too long. Often it is one additional event on top of the already busy life that provides the trigger, such as a sick family member, a death, a relationship breakdown, or a physical trauma like child birth or a car accident or some minor surgery.
This type of fatigue has a much more gradual onset than post-pathogenic fatigue. Because people are often not prompted to do anything about it until the level of depletion becomes quite severe, it can be more stubborn to treat.
Stress-induced fatigue includes the fatigue that people refer to as adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion.
Inherited Versus Acquired Factors
A tendency towards chronic fatigue seems to be something that can be inherited. It is not uncommon to see a higher incidence of fatigue within some families.
A portion of our health make-up is inherited and part is acquired. While we have little influence over our inherited portion we can make good as best we can with our acquired portion.
Our acquired health is affected by our diet and lifestyle choices. It is true that we are a product of our environment. If we eat varied, unprocessed, untainted, seasonal food; and live a low-stress life with little environmental pollution, plenty of sleep and exercise, and a have a supportive social network, this will reflect in our health.
For this very reason, correct diet and lifestyle practises are essential to a chronic fatigue treatment.
Chronic Fatigue Treatment Program
A chronic fatigue treatment will generally come in the form of a ‘course’ or ‘program’.
One of the key benefits of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is that its treatments are tailored to your individual circumstances. For this reason, no two treatment courses, or set of recommendations, are identical.
The following will give you a guide as to what a treatment course might look like should we start working together.
Chronic Fatigue Treatment Options – Herbal Medicine Versus Acupuncture
The main treatment modalities of Chinese medicine are acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, supported by diet and lifestyle advice. In treating chronic fatigue, herbal medicine will nearly always be the strength of the treatment.
Acupuncture may be used throughout the treatment course to supplement the herbal medicine, but sometimes not at all. Whether or not acupuncture is used will largely depend on your “type” of fatigue, what symptoms you are experiencing, and how accessible you are to the clinic.
Acupuncture can be very helpful when there is a lot of pain, as in body or joint aches (for example, as in fibromyalgia), or headaches. It is also very useful when stress and anxiety are a major complaint.
During each consultation, your condition will be discussed in detail and your herbal medicine prescription adjusted, if necessary
When Will I Start to Feel Better?
Some people start to see a change very quickly. In very stubborn cases it can take 4-6 weeks to begin to see an improvement.
Just like the severity of chronic fatigue symptoms tend to cycle up and down through periods of relative improvement and regression, recovery from chronic fatigue also follows this path.
Between periods of improvement, there will continue to be low periods which can seem quite pronounced compared with feeling relatively good just prior. Recovery is like a roller coaster ride with lots of ups and downs. It’s a process of 2 steps forward, then 1 back, then 2 forward again. Most people experience this. Over time we are intending that the highs become higher and more sustained, and the lows become less frequent, less severe and shorter lived.
Further Reading on Chronic Fatigue
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