By Karen Lee Richards, ChronicPainConnection Lead Expert
To say that treating chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as "Myalgic Encephalopathy" or "ME/CFS") is challenging would be an understatement. The cause of this mysterious illness remains uncertain and to date there is no known cure. Most treatment plans, therefore, are directed at treating symptoms and trying to improve the patient's quality of life.
There's not a one-size-fits-all treatment protocol for ME/CFS. Each patient has a unique combination of symptoms and may respond differently to various treatments. The most effective treatment programs usually involve a multi-disciplined approach, incorporating prescription medications, alternative therapies and lifestyle changes.
Any medications prescribed in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome / myalgic encephalopathy must be prescribed off-label, because no drugs have yet received FDA approval to treat ME/CFS. Therefore, doctors will generally prescribe medication to treat specific symptoms the patient is experiencing. Since people with ME/CFS often have a heightened sensitivity to drugs, prescribing medications can present quite a challenge. It's usually best to start with low doses of any medication, gradually increasing the dosage as necessary. Types of medications sometimes used to treat chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms include:
- Central nervous system depressants
A variety of alternative therapies have been effective in helping some ME/CFS patients manage their symptoms. Some of these alternative therapies include:
- Aquatic therapy (i.e., water exercise, watsu)
- Massage therapy
- Myofascial release therapy
- Nutritional supplementation
- Tai chi
- Therapeutic touch
Lifestyle adaptations are key to the effective management of chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms. Making positive lifestyle changes lays a good foundation upon which other treatment plans can be built. Recommended lifestyle changes include:
- Getting more rest. (If possible, however, avoid complete bed rest, which will lead to deconditioned muscles and increased fatigue.)
- Following a regular, manageable daily routine.
- Reducing physical and emotional stress.
- Improving nutrition. (Avoid alcohol, caffeine, sugar and food additives. Many ME/CFS patients have found eating more organic foods to be very effective.)
- Getting mild to moderate exercise regularly, but only with doctor's approval. (for example, gentle stretching, simple water exercise)
About CFIDS. The CFIDS Association of America, Inc., 2004
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. MayoClinic.com, 2005
Treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. ImmuneSupport.com, 2007