Veterans struggle with their physical and emotional health when they return home. If they have been deployed multiple times, their risk factors increase exponentially. For some, they may suffer from what is called ‘chronic fatigue syndrome,’ or CFS. this disorder brings on a state of chronic fatigue in the body that seems to have no end. It lasts six months or longer and is accompanied by cognitive impairments such as low concentration. Find out more about CFS in veterans and how they can seek treatment for the condition.
How Chronic Fatigue Works
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) impacts millions of Americans. The disorder has no definitive diagnosis or treatment, though symptoms can be managed. Gulf War veterans were exposed to nerve agents, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals that trigger chronic pain and other issues. Brain scans of veterans with CFS look at imaging in the brainstem region which controls heart rate. Two distinct brain patterns showed up for veterans with symptoms from serving in the Gulf War, that demonstrate they suffer at a higher rate in the brain from depression, fibromyalgia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Long-term chronic health conditions often come with symptoms of fatigue and lack of ability to sleep or feel rested. These can also cause chronic fatigue symptoms in veterans.
Notice the Signs
When someone has chronic fatigue for six months or longer, they may exhibit signs and symptoms that are unexplainable any other way. Fatigue can lead to other health and emotional wellness issues. For people with CFS, they might experience:
- Issues with short-term memory or concentration
- Sore throat
- Lymph node soreness or tenderness
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain or swelling
- Tired even after sleeping
- Tiredness lasting more than 24 hours post-exercise
While CFS impacts lots of people, veterans are particularly susceptible given the stress they experience from combat and back home upon transition. Working and living life every day are challenging because of fatigue and problems with memory impacting how they function on a daily basis. Depression is also a risk factor due to social isolation or having to quit work if the fatigue becomes too bad.
Causes of CFS
The cause of CFS is not known. The condition may be related to the immune system. Many theories have been sought as to what happens to bring on fatigue. Bacterium Chlamydia pneumoniae may be a cause in some cases, with antibiotics helping some people improve symptoms. Unrelated infections appear to lead to long-term fatigue in some people. If fatigue is accompanied by problems with short-term memory, CFS is possible. Other conditions that cause symptoms similar to those of CFS must be ruled out including low adrenal function, malignancy, liver disease, hepatitis C, and thyroid disease. Stress in a person’s life, returning from combat, relearning how to be a civilian, and dealing with PTSD, or other chronic ailments can also bring on CFS.
Veteran Health and CFS
Veterans often deal with a multitude of issues when they return home. To deal with fatigue can feel debilitating. In fact, many veterans often apply for disability benefits from the VA to cope more effectively with their symptoms. Since there is not a known origin of why people get CFS, veterans are often not treated or misdiagnosed. When they receive a diagnosis, they may rely on medications to offset their symptoms. Treatment for depression makes it easier to cope with problems associated with CFS. Low doses of antidepressants can help improve sleep and relieve pain. Some therapeutic modalities may also help:
- Working with a therapist to find solutions that work for personal and work endeavors
- Determine what and how much exercise work for the individual’s capabilities
- Holistic therapies may help and also boost a person’s mental capacity to cope with the issues they face
- Group therapy or places where others struggle with the same issues can help someone dealing with CFS
Finding Hope for CFS
Veterans are susceptible to mental health issues but CFS can exacerbate mental health concerns. They are more likely to deal with chronic health conditions on top of other combat injuries. This leaves them vulnerable to substance use disorders as a means of coping with their challenges. One of the more difficult things for veterans to manage is finding community support and a plan that works to keep them moving forward. What is a manageable plan for one person may not be a workable solution for another. Even with all the treatment professionals and help in place, there may be gaps in treatment for veterans who are not getting the right individualized care they need. A therapist, holistic treatment professional, and nutritionist are only part of the package. Finding hope for chronic fatigue means seeking better ways of living overall. This means being in recovery in mind, body, and spirit. Meditation, mindfulness, better sleep, healthier eating habits, and all the other things that help the body adjust to a different rhythm of life are necessary components to find hope for chronic fatigue syndrome. With the right help and treatment plan, veterans can seek out hope with a renewed vision for the future.
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