Do you know anyone with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), sometimes also known as ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) or post-viral fatigue syndrome? It can be hard to understand from the outside, which is one of the reasons it can be so frustrating if you have it. CFS, as I’m going to refer to it, is a chronic, or long-term, condition with the main symptom of extreme tiredness. Other symptoms can include sleep problems, muscle/joint pain, headaches and other pain, problems concentrating (“brain fog”), dizziness, sore throat, digestive issues and sensitivity to some foods, smells, medications or alcohol. It can also be associated with other conditions such as fibromyalgia.
It’s really important to know that the extreme tiredness is completely debilitating. What we would think of as a light mental or physical task can cause exhaustion for days afterwards. People can differ hugely as to the extent CFS affects them – symptoms vary, as does the time it affects them for (weeks to years) and the severity of the symptoms.
How does it start? This isn’t clear, but various theories are: after a viral/bacterial infection where recovery may have been hampered in some way; physical trauma such as an accident, operation or medical treatment; severe emotional trauma; or it could run in the family.
The NHS may recommend cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), graded exercise therapy, or patients may be prescribed medication such as painkillers, sleeping tablets, or antidepressants. However, people withCFS are often more sensitive to the side effects of these drugs.
How can herbal medicine help? It’s important that I remember that in the same way that CFS patients may be more sensitive to drugs, foods, smells etc, they could be more sensitive to herbs than the previous patient I saw. So lower doses are often used, gradually working up. I also look quite deeply into diet as sometimes CFS is aggravated by food intolerances. Herbally, it’s also important not to just prescribe herbs to “give more energy” when there is nowhere to get that energy from…as another herbalist once said it’s like “writing cheques your body can’t cash”. Instead we work slowly and gradually on building energy reserves. Different symptoms can be looked at such as insomnia, low mood, brain fog and so on, depending on what the patient wants to concentrate on. Please feel free to get in contact if you’d like to discuss further with me.