Pregnancy and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

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Note: The Pregistry website includes expert reports on more than 2000 medications, 300 diseases, and 150 common exposures during pregnancy and lactation. For the topic Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, go here. These expert reports are free of charge and can be saved and shared.

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One of the most notable and—dare I say—debilitating symptoms of pregnancy for many women is the total, complete, and utter exhaustion. Growing an entire human being for the better part of a year is hard work and your body gets really tired really easily when you are pregnant. But, when is this exhaustion normal and when is it the sign of a more serious condition?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disorder that is characterized by extreme tiredness that isn’t explained by some other condition. The fatigue often worsens with both physical and mental activities and rest does not improve the fatigue. CFS is sometimes called systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID) or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).

The cause of CFS is unknown but theories of its origins include psychological stress, viral infections, hormone imbalances, and immune system problems. Likely, the cause is a combination of factors and exposures. No test is available to confirm the diagnosis of CFS – it’s a diagnosis of exclusion: you will need to rule out many other conditions and causes of the fatigue before a diagnosis of CFS is established.

In addition to fatigue that is extreme and unending, CFS may also cause memory or concentration problems, dizziness, sore throat, enlarged lymph nodes, muscle and joint pain, headaches, and sleep that isn’t refreshing. CFS may also lead to depression, social isolation, lifestyle restriction, and an inability to work.

CFS is estimated to affect more than 2 million Americans, but most of them are undiagnosed. Women suffer from CFS more often than men. Most people are diagnosed in their 40s or 50s, though children and younger adults can also be diagnosed with CFS. There is no cure for CFS, but lifestyle changes, including sleep hygiene and stress management, make the condition manageable.

If you have already been diagnosed with CFS before you got pregnant, the good news is that the CFS will not increase the risk of complications or negatively affect your baby, nor will the pregnancy make the CFS worse. Some women even report that pregnancy improved their CFS symptoms.

As long as you work hard to control your CFS by managing stress, eating well, and resting enough, your baby will likely be strong and healthy. Despite the fact that CFS may have a genetic component to its cause, there is no evidence that a woman with CFS is more likely to have a child with CFS.

Remember, being tired—even very tired a lot of the time—while you are pregnant is considered pretty normal. CFS leads to a lasting feeling of exhaustion that limits your ability to function normally. If you think you may have CFS, talk to your doctor.

Jennifer Gibson
Dr. Jennifer Gibson earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from Clemson University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the Medical College of Virginia School of Pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University. She trained as a hospital pharmacist and is the author of clinical textbooks, peer-reviewed journal articles, and continuing education programs for the medical community, as well as a contributor to award-winning healthcare blogs and websites. In her free time, she enjoys running, reading, traveling, and spending time with her family.

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