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9 Ways to Treat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

There may not be a cure for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), but researchers have uncovered some promising therapies. Here are nine ways to find relief from the symptoms of chronic fatigue.

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Coping with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Despite how family, friends and possibly even your own doctor may make you feel, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is not all in your head. This is a systemic disorder that affects hormonal levels, the immune system and the brain itself. Studies find lesions on the white matter in the brains of people with CFS, as well as poor blood flow to the brain, elevated levels of inflammatory immune cells like T-lymphocytes and cytokines and low levels of other immune cells, like natural killer cells and immunoglobulin, in the blood.

No one knows for sure what causes the disorder. Some researchers theorize a virus triggers it, but no particular virus has been pinpointed as the culprit. As with many syndromes, there is no definitive diagnostic test for the condition.

Although there is no cure for CFS, researchers have uncovered some promising therapies. Just as symptoms differ from patient to patient, however, so will effective treatments. Be patient as you work to find the right ones for you.

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2. Relaxation exercise

When pain of chronic fatigue syndrome hits, lie comfortably on the floor and begin breathing deeply. Tense and relax the muscles of your body systematically, starting with your feet and moving up toward your head. The deep breathing and muscle-tensing exercise (known as progressive muscle relaxation) helps you enter a state of deep relaxation, providing a short mental and physical “time out.” We want you to do it on the floor so you don’t fall asleep. (If you have time for a nap, go ahead and do it in bed).

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3. Aleve (naproxen)

Take 200 milligrams Aleve (naproxen) up to 3 times a day for 2 days. The naproxen reduces joint and muscle pain by stemming inflammation.

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4. Gluten-free diet

Some people with chronic fatigue syndrome also have celiac disease, a genetic disorder that prevents their bodies from digesting gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye and barley. If they eat these grains, they develop diarrhea, weight loss and malnutrition. If you suspect you have celiac disease, eliminate all gluten products from your diet for at least a month. If your symptoms subside, continue this diet. If not, you can add the foods back.

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5. Cognitive-behavioural therapy

Look for a social worker or psychologist trained in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), preferably one who’s had experience working with people with chronic fatigue syndrome. In addition to boosting your mood and improving sleep, CBT, which teaches positive thinking strategies and coping skills, can ease symptoms and help you adopt habits, such as exercise, that could benefit your symptoms. 

In one study of 171 people with CFS, this form of therapy worked better than a support group (or no treatment) in alleviating symptoms over 8 months. In a separate study of 53 patients, 68 percent rated themselves as either “much improved” or “very much improved” as many as 5 years after completing the therapy. They were also significantly more likely to meet the criteria for complete recovery from CFS compared to patients who learned a form of relaxation therapy.

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6. Graded exercise

If you’re exhausted from chronic fatigue syndrome and you don’t exercise, you’ll become very out of shape. Your heart, lungs and muscles will become weak-which would make anyone easily fatigued. Graded exercise, in which you slowly and incrementally increase your level of physical activity, helps reverse this vicious cycle. Many studies find it reduces fatigue.

If you decide to try graded exercise, meet with a physical therapist trained in the technique. Your therapist can help you start a program at a manageable level and slowly increase your duration over time. You’ll also work on reintroducing daily tasks into your life that you have been avoiding because of CFS.

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7. Magnesium injections

Low levels of the mineral magnesium in people with chronic fatigue syndrome can lead to low mood and energy. To jump-start a magnesium increase, have your doctor give you magnesium injections once weekly for 6 weeks. If your symptoms don’t improve within that time, stop the shots. If they do improve, your doctor should slowly taper off the shots, transitioning you to magnesium supplements. Eventually you’ll take 300 to 600 milligrams of magnesium 2 to 3 times a day.

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8. Self-hypnosis

This technique elicits a deep relaxation response, which helps turn off inhibitions, fear, pain and stress. There are no clinical studies on this therapy for CFS, although one case study that was published in a medical journal reported good results (less fatigue and confusion) in one patient.

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9. Friendships

Use some of your energy to keep up with your friends-it may make you feel better in more ways than one. In one study, lack of social support was linked with more severe CFS symptoms.

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