Published: July 13, 2012
There’s no proven cure yet for chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), but there are treatments that often can help reduce the symptoms. And there’s plenty of ongoing research to test new therapies. In part because of the symptomatic treatments, those who meet the CDC criteria usually do not get progressively worse, and many have gradually improved over time.
Most experts say that the following are your best bets for treating symptoms:
Get adequate amounts of rest. Measured doses of taking-it-easy do alleviate some symptoms.
Eat right. CFS is not associated with vitamin or mineral deficiencies, but eating meals with adequate amounts of nutrients (including calories) does make a difference in how some CFS sufferers feel. Some report feeling better when the diet is low in sugar and fat.
Do a small amount of exercise every day. Even if it’s just stretching. Chronic overexertion tends to worsen symptoms and may prolong the course of the disease. But most experts do not believe people will get better faster if they stay in bed. That can be psychologically and physically devastating.
Ration your limited energy. Every day, think of energy credits. The first credits you can use are always for yourself—wash your hair, paint your nails. Then balance out the rest over the day.
Ease your pain. If you are in a lot of pain, ask your doctor about pain medication.
Get emotional help. Chronic illness really takes a toll on your emotions. You need to know to deal emotionally with the disease. You can seek counseling or get support from CFS patient groups.
Ask about tricyclic antidepressants. To help CFS sufferers, doctors have tried various drugs to help boost the immune system or to attack specific viruses. It’s unclear, though, whether these medications can really help, because they haven’t been tested. One drug that was tested, the antiviral called acyclovir, was found ineffective.
But one type of drug—tricyclic antidepressants—appears, theoretically, to be designed specifically for this syndrome. “Depressive symptoms are part of the illness, but alleviating depression is not the only reason to use antidepressants,” says James F Jones, M.D., of the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine in Denver.
“Tricyclic antidepressants have a number of pharmacological activities,” he says. “They are potent antihistamines, which may help ameliorate allergies. They also are sedating, which can help patients get a good night’s sleep. And they have anti-inflammatory effects,” Dr. Jones has been able to relieve the symptoms of 70 percent of his CFS patients using one-tenth the dose of antidepressant generally prescribed to treat depression. He points out that antidepressants have not been evaluated in controlled trials of CFS patients.
Shun the snake-oil peddlers. There are plenty of them in the CFS wilderness–the mystery of the disease and lack of the cure brings them out from under the rocks with unproven therapies promoted as sure cures. “Be wary of so-called chronic fatigue syndrome specialists who suggest you fly across the country to see them,” Dr. Renner says. “They are likely to put you on a bizarre treatment.” The list of unsubstantiated therapies promoted as effective includes injections of hydrogen peroxide, homeopathic remedies, high colonics, and large doses of vitamin C or other food supplements.
Until a cure is found, focus on safe, best-bet treatments. And remember that most people with CFS do learn to cope with it and they usually get better.