Am I suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome or burnout?

by | 15. January 2020

Johanna (the patient’s name has been changed) has been suffering for several months from a persistent lack of energy and increasing fatigue. Shortly after getting up, Johanna would already like to lie down again. However, since she has to take her two small children to school and then work as a cashier, she tries to keep herself awake by any means. She drinks lots of coffee, energy drinks and cola, and tries to replenish her energy reserves with vitamin drinks. But all of these only offer her short-term benefits. Financially, she has been struggling as a single mother for years. The biological father of her children takes little care of them and the financial help expected of him is not forthcoming. Since the beginning of this year, when her mother was unable to support her with the children and the household due to illness, her exhaustion has increased even further, and her sleep disorders have worsened. After her supervisor criticizes her for lacking focus and working too slowly, panic attacks creep in, accompanied by the feeling that she can no longer cope with all of this. She feels as if she has failed and is increasingly ashamed of her lack of energy and listlessness towards her children and former pleasures. Gradually, and almost going unnoticed, she distances herself more and more from friends and colleagues. It takes a long time until Johanna admits to herself that she has to accept professional help to be able to cope with everyday life and her experiences again.


How does burnout differ from chronic fatigue syndrome?

Does Johanna suffer from a burnout or from chronic fatigue syndrome?

Johanna suffers from a typical burnout.

But what is the difference between a burnout and chronic fatigue syndrome?

Burnout is a gradual process that is accompanied by physical and emotional exhaustion due to chronic overwork, as in the case of Johanna. Johanna has all the typical symptoms of a burnout, such as lack of energy, exhaustion, tiredness, listlessness and sleep disorders.

A longer-lasting burnout is often accompanied by other physical symptoms, such as headaches, backaches and stomach aches, as well as concentration problems, anxiety, panic attacks and depressive moods.

Chronic fatigue syndrome, on the other hand, is a systemic disease associated with chronic inflammation. It is often preceded by an above-average number of long-standing derailments of the immune system.


Possible therapy approaches for burnout

How does the Alpstein Clinic support and treat a patient like Johanna?

It would be easy to advise Johanna to take a holiday, but this is by no means enough for a manifest burnout. For a patient with a manifest burnout, it is first of all important to take them out of the work process and then to calmly work out which factors on the emotional and physical level have led to their slipping into a burnout in the first place. On the emotional level, a targeted talk therapy helps to find out what the energy loss is based on: what is ‘burned out’. For example, is it the family situation or problems with colleagues or superiors at work? Or both?

Solutions are then formulated and gradually implemented with the support of the therapist or doctor. On the physical level, deficiencies in vital substances, metabolic disorders, etc., must be ruled out. In order to support the overall physical situation, booster infusions can be given and nutritional advice offered to encourage a balanced diet. It is also advisable to stimulate detoxification and initiate physical therapy to regulate the musculoskeletal and lymphatic systems.


What should be considered in the diagnosis and therapy of chronic fatigue syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome is also characterized by persistent fatigue, but this is not due to chronic emotional or physical overload, but instead to chronic inflammation. As a consequence, chronic fatigue syndrome causes additional physical symptoms, such as muscle and joint pain, sore throat or painful lymph nodes. In diagnostic work, it is important to distinguish chronic fatigue syndrome from other systemic underlying diseases, such as autoimmune and infectious diseases, hormonal diseases (e.g. thyroid deficiency or diabetes), or chronic lung and cardiovascular diseases. The therapeutic procedure for chronic fatigue syndrome then depends on the triggering causes of the chronic inflammation.


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