Chronic fatigue syndrome is one of the most difficult conditions to diagnose. Doctors are not always clear on what chronic fatigue syndrome really is and what neurological functions are causing it. The best way to diagnose it is to see if the patient meets the established criteria for this condition.
Criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome CFS can be defined as an unexplained sense of fatigue that lasts for at least six months. There are certain criteria that the patient should meet in order to be diagnosed with CFS. Those include fatigue that does not result from physical strain, is not relieved after resting or sleeping and reduces the ability to perform normal everyday activities, like work, studying, social interactions and such.
In addition to this, the patient should have four or more of precisely defined symptoms, such as problems with concentration, focus and short-term memory, sore throat, muscle pain, swollen or painful lymph nodes, headache, joint pain and malaise that lasts for 24 hours after intense physical activity.
People with CFS can also experience nausea and vomiting, difficulty sleeping, dizziness and rapid heartbeat.
Certain conditions and diseases can induce symptoms of CFS, and they should be ruled out before proceeding with the diagnose.
Personal and medical history
Before proceeding with other diagnostic methods, doctors usually ask the patient about their personal and medical history, for example when did the problem start, does it get better occasionally and if yes, in what situations, does rest bring relief, does exercise make it worse, are there other symptoms, is there a family member with similar problems, is there a great amount of stress in the patient’s life, is the patient taking any medications, and similar. He or she will probably do a thorough physical exam.
Doctors perform tests in order to rule out other conditions that are known for causing similar symptoms. These include complete blood work, tests for gluten sensitivity, random glucose tests, creatine kinase, sedimentation, plasma viscosity, liver function, serum calcium, iron and creatinine, thyroid function, urea, electrolytes and urine tests.
There is no specific laboratory test that can diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome specifically. If one of the tests shows abnormal values, the doctors investigate the results and try to find out what is causing them. Only if all the tests turn out normal, doctors can suspect CFS.
It has been found recently that certain components can be considered markers for CFS. Also, people with CFS often have antibodies for Epstein-Barr virus, high levels of isoprostanes and low alpha-tocopherol.