The Relationship Between Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME) And Psychological Trauma – A Review

Understanding the Correlation between Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Psychological Trauma

Scam Victim Recovery

Author:
•  Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.

About This Article

Experiencing a major traumatic event, such as falling victim to a relationship scam, can deeply impact both physical and psychological well-being. Following such trauma, it’s vital to undergo comprehensive evaluation, both medically and psychologically, to address any potential issues.

Dismissing even minor symptoms as normal can be detrimental, as they may indicate underlying health problems or conditions. Seeking medical evaluation helps identify physical concerns arising from stress and anxiety, like fatigue or sleep disturbances, which should not be overlooked.

Similarly, psychological evaluation is crucial for managing emotions and potential mental health disorders like depression or PTSD. Ignoring symptoms may prolong suffering, so seeking professional support facilitates healing and resilience.

Thorough evaluation and support from healthcare professionals are essential steps toward recovery and rebuilding after trauma.

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There is a Strong Correlation between Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Psychological Trauma, though it does Not Affect Every Trauma Sufferer

Many scam victims report a range of physical symptoms, one of them is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS), is a complex and debilitating condition characterized by profound fatigue that is not alleviated by rest and is accompanied by a range of other symptoms. While the exact cause of CFS is not fully understood, it is believed to involve a combination of genetic, immunological, environmental, and psychological factors.

The hallmark symptom of CFS is persistent fatigue that is severe and disabling, lasting for at least six months and significantly impairing daily functioning. This fatigue is not relieved by rest and is often exacerbated by physical or mental activity, a phenomenon known as post-exertional malaise. In addition to fatigue, individuals with CFS may experience a wide range of symptoms, which can vary in severity and may fluctuate over time. These symptoms may include:

  • Muscle Pain and Weakness: Many individuals with CFS experience muscle pain, weakness, and stiffness, which can interfere with mobility and daily activities.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Sleep disturbances are common in CFS, including insomnia, non-restorative sleep, and disturbances in sleep-wake patterns. Despite feeling exhausted, individuals with CFS may have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up feeling refreshed.
  • Cognitive Dysfunction: CFS often causes cognitive impairments, commonly referred to as “brain fog.” This may include difficulties with concentration, memory, attention, and information processing, which can impact work, school, and social interactions.
  • Orthostatic Intolerance: Some individuals with CFS experience symptoms such as dizziness, lightheadedness, palpitations, and fainting upon standing or sitting upright, a condition known as orthostatic intolerance.
  • Immune System Dysfunction: CFS is associated with abnormalities in immune function, including increased inflammation and dysregulation of immune responses. This may manifest as frequent infections, flu-like symptoms, and general malaise.
  • Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Digestive problems such as nausea, abdominal pain, bloating, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are common in individuals with CFS.
  • Mood Disorders: CFS is often associated with mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, which can further exacerbate symptoms and impair quality of life.

The underlying mechanisms of CFS are not fully understood, but research suggests that it involves dysregulation of multiple body systems, including the central nervous system, immune system, endocrine system, and autonomic nervous system. Factors such as genetic predisposition, viral infections, hormonal imbalances, environmental toxins, and psychosocial stressors may contribute to the development and perpetuation of CFS.

Diagnosing CFS can be challenging due to the diverse and overlapping nature of its symptoms, as well as the absence of specific diagnostic tests. Diagnosis is typically based on clinical criteria that include the presence of persistent fatigue and other characteristic symptoms, as well as the exclusion of other medical conditions that could explain the symptoms.

Management of CFS often involves a multidisciplinary approach tailored to individual needs, which may include lifestyle modifications, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), graded exercise therapy (GET), medications to alleviate symptoms, and support from healthcare professionals and support groups. While there is currently no cure for CFS, many individuals experience improvement in symptoms with appropriate management strategies and support. Ongoing research is needed to better understand the underlying mechanisms of CFS and to develop more effective treatments for this complex and challenging condition.

Trauma as a Cause of CFS

There is strong evidence to suggest that there may be a relationship between chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and psychological trauma in adults, although the exact nature of this relationship is complex and not fully understood.

Chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS), is a debilitating condition characterized by persistent fatigue that is not alleviated by rest and is accompanied by a range of other symptoms, such as muscle pain, sleep disturbances, cognitive impairment, and post-exertional malaise.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association:

Traumatic events in childhood and stress or emotional instability at any period in life may be associated with the development of chronic fatigue syndrome, according to two articles in the November issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. The findings suggest that CFS and similar illnesses may result from the brain’s inability to cope with challenging experiences.

In a National Institute of Health Study:

Data from primary care and community samples suggest higher rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

Participants who reported a history of PTSD were over 8 times more likely to report a history of CFS.

While the exact cause of CFS remains unknown, researchers believe that it likely involves a combination of genetic, environmental, immunological, and psychological factors. Psychological trauma, such as exposure to traumatic events or experiences, can contribute to the development or exacerbation of CFS through various pathways:

  • Dysregulation of the Stress Response: Psychological trauma can dysregulate the body’s stress response systems, leading to chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones such as cortisol can disrupt immune function, neurotransmitter activity, and energy metabolism, potentially contributing to the onset or exacerbation of CFS symptoms.
  • Increased Vulnerability to Illness: Psychological trauma is associated with dysregulation of the immune system, including increased inflammation and decreased immune function. Individuals who have experienced trauma may be more susceptible to infections, illnesses, and chronic health conditions, including CFS. Trauma-induced alterations in immune function may contribute to the pathophysiology of CFS and perpetuate symptom severity.
  • Psychosocial Factors: Psychological trauma can have profound effects on psychosocial functioning, including mood disturbances, cognitive impairments, and maladaptive coping strategies. These psychosocial factors can contribute to the development of chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders, which are commonly observed in individuals with CFS. The interaction between psychological and physiological factors may worsen CFS symptoms and contribute to functional impairment and disability.
  • Biological Mechanisms: Emerging research suggests that there may be biological mechanisms underlying the relationship between psychological trauma and CFS, including alterations in neuroendocrine function, autonomic nervous system dysfunction, and neuroinflammation. These biological changes may contribute to the pathogenesis of CFS and influence symptom expression and severity.

Important Note:

It’s important to note that while psychological trauma may contribute to the development or exacerbation of CFS symptoms in some individuals, not all individuals with CFS have a history of trauma, and not all individuals who experience trauma develop CFS. CFS is a complex and multifactorial condition with heterogeneous clinical presentations, and further research is needed to better understand the relationship between psychological trauma and CFS and to inform the development of effective interventions for individuals with this debilitating condition.

Don’t Ignore the Symptoms – Get Evaluated

Experiencing a major traumatic event, such as falling victim to a relationship scam, can have profound and far-reaching effects on both physical and psychological well-being.

In the aftermath of such trauma, individuals should get a comprehensive evaluation, both medically and psychologically, to assess and address any potential physical or mental health issues that may arise.

Disregarding even minor symptoms as being normal can be detrimental, as they may serve as indicators of more serious underlying issues or conditions that are developing and can require intervention and support.

First and foremost, getting a medical evaluation after a traumatic experience is essential for identifying and addressing any physical health concerns that may have emerged as a result of the trauma and alerting your doctor to be watchful. Relationship scams, particularly those involving financial exploitation or manipulation, can be incredibly stressful and emotionally taxing, leading to a range of physiological responses. Individuals may experience symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, muscle tension, or changes in appetite, which can manifest as a result of prolonged stress and anxiety. While these symptoms may initially be dismissed as temporary or insignificant, they should not be ignored, as they may be indicative of underlying health problems or conditions that require medical attention. For example, the development of Fibromyalgia has been linked to trauma.

Furthermore, psychological evaluation is equally important in the aftermath of a traumatic experience, as individuals typically experience a wide range of emotional and psychological symptoms that can significantly impact their mental well-being. Falling victim to a relationship scam can evoke feelings of betrayal, shame, guilt, anger, grief, and profound loss, which may contribute to the development of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or complex trauma. These psychological symptoms may manifest in various ways, including intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance behaviors, hypervigilance, mood swings, social withdrawal, or difficulty concentrating. Seeking psychological evaluation and therapy can provide individuals with the support, validation, and coping strategies they need to navigate the complex emotions and challenges associated with trauma recovery.

It is essential not to disregard even minor symptoms or changes in behavior as just being normal or temporary reactions to trauma, as they may be indicative of more serious underlying issues or conditions that require professional intervention. Ignoring or minimizing these symptoms can prolong suffering, exacerbate distress, and hinder the healing process. By seeking comprehensive evaluation and support from both medical and psychological professionals, individuals can receive appropriate treatment, guidance, and resources to promote recovery, resilience, and overall well-being in the aftermath of a traumatic experience.

Being evaluated both medically and psychologically after a major traumatic experience, such as a relationship scam, is important for identifying and addressing any physical or mental health issues that may arise. Disregarding even minor symptoms as being normal can be detrimental, as they may serve as indicators of more serious underlying issues or conditions that require intervention and support. By seeking comprehensive evaluation and support from healthcare professionals, individuals can receive the care, validation, and resources they need to heal and rebuild their lives after trauma.

Getting Care

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a complex condition that requires a multidisciplinary approach to treatment. While there is currently no specific medical specialty dedicated solely to the treatment of CFS, individuals with CFS may benefit from the expertise of various healthcare professionals who specialize in different areas of medicine.

Here are medical professionals who may help in the treatment of CFS:

  1. Primary Care Physician (PCP): A primary care physician, such as a family doctor or internal medicine doctor, is often the first point of contact for individuals with CFS. They can help with initial evaluation, diagnosis, and management of symptoms. PCPs may coordinate care with other specialists and provide ongoing support and monitoring.
  2. Rheumatologist: Rheumatologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal and autoimmune conditions. Since CFS shares some similarities with autoimmune disorders and involves widespread pain and fatigue, a rheumatologist may be involved in the evaluation and management of CFS symptoms, particularly if there are overlapping symptoms or conditions.
  3. Immunologist: Immunologists specialize in disorders of the immune system. Since CFS is associated with abnormalities in immune function, an immunologist may be consulted to assess immune function, identify underlying immune dysregulation, and explore potential immune-based treatments or interventions.

The treatment of CFS often requires a collaborative and integrated approach involving multiple healthcare professionals who work together to address the diverse and complex nature of CFS symptoms and their underlying mechanisms. Each individual with CFS may have unique needs and may benefit from a personalized treatment plan tailored to their specific symptoms, medical history, and functional limitations.

Important Information for New Scam Victims

If you are looking for local trauma counselors please visit counseling.AgainstScams.org or join SCARS for our counseling/therapy benefit: membership.AgainstScams.org

If you need to speak with someone now, you can dial 988 or find phone numbers for crisis hotlines all around the world here: www.opencounseling.com/suicide-hotlines

Statement About Victim Blaming

Some of our articles discuss various aspects of victims. This is both about better understanding victims (the science of victimology) and their behaviors and psychology. This helps us to educate victims/survivors about why these crimes happened and to not blame themselves, better develop recovery programs, and to help victims avoid scams in the future. At times this may sound like blaming the victim, but it does not blame scam victims, we are simply explaining the hows and whys of the experience victims have.

These articles, about the Psychology of Scams or Victim Psychology – meaning that all humans have psychological or cognitive characteristics in common that can either be exploited or work against us – help us all to understand the unique challenges victims face before, during, and after scams, fraud, or cybercrimes. These sometimes talk about some of the vulnerabilities the scammers exploit. Victims rarely have control of them or are even aware of them, until something like a scam happens and then they can learn how their mind works and how to overcome these mechanisms.

Articles like these help victims and others understand these processes and how to help prevent them from being exploited again or to help them recover more easily by understanding their post-scam behaviors. Learn more about the Psychology of Scams at www.ScamPsychology.org

SCARS Resources:

Psychology Disclaimer:

All articles about psychology and the human brain on this website are for information & education only

The information provided in this and other SCARS articles are intended for educational and self-help purposes only and should not be construed as a substitute for professional therapy or counseling.

Note about Mindfulness: Mindfulness practices have the potential to create psychological distress for some individuals. Please consult a mental health professional or experienced meditation instructor for guidance should you encounter difficulties.

While any self-help techniques outlined herein may be beneficial for scam victims seeking to recover from their experience and move towards recovery, it is important to consult with a qualified mental health professional before initiating any course of action. Each individual’s experience and needs are unique, and what works for one person may not be suitable for another.

Additionally, any approach may not be appropriate for individuals with certain pre-existing mental health conditions or trauma histories. It is advisable to seek guidance from a licensed therapist or counselor who can provide personalized support, guidance, and treatment tailored to your specific needs.

If you are experiencing significant distress or emotional difficulties related to a scam or other traumatic event, please consult your doctor or mental health provider for appropriate care and support.

If you are in crisis, feeling desperate, or in despair please call 988 or your local crisis hotline.

PLEASE NOTE: Psychology Clarification

The following specific modalities within the practice of psychology are restricted to psychologists appropriately trained in the use of such modalities:

  • Diagnosis: The diagnosis of mental, emotional, or brain disorders and related behaviors.
  • Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals to understand and resolve unconscious conflicts.
  • Hypnosis: Hypnosis is a state of trance in which individuals are more susceptible to suggestion. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and pain.
  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a type of therapy that teaches individuals to control their bodily functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including stress, anxiety, and pain.
  • Behavioral analysis: Behavioral analysis is a type of therapy that focuses on changing individuals’ behaviors. It is often used to treat conditions such as autism and ADHD.
    Neuropsychology: Neuropsychology is a type of psychology that focuses on the relationship between the brain and behavior. It is often used to assess and treat cognitive impairments caused by brain injuries or diseases.

SCARS and the members of the SCARS Team do not engage in any of the above modalities in relationship to scam victims. SCARS is not a mental healthcare provider and recognizes the importance of professionalism and separation between its work and that of the licensed practice of psychology.

SCARS is an educational provider of generalized self-help information that individuals can use for their own benefit to achieve their own goals related to emotional trauma. SCARS recommends that all scam victims see professional counselors or therapists to help them determine the suitability of any specific information or practices that may help them.

SCARS cannot diagnose or treat any individuals, nor can it state the effectiveness of any educational information that it may provide, regardless of its experience in interacting with traumatized scam victims over time. All information that SCARS provides is purely for general educational purposes to help scam victims become aware of and better understand the topics and to be able to dialog with their counselors or therapists.

It is important that all readers understand these distinctions and that they apply the information that SCARS may publish at their own risk, and should do so only after consulting a licensed psychologist or mental healthcare provider.

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