Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms and Treatment

Chronic fatigue syndrome involves severe fatigue not caused by underlying medical conditions. Be informed of the risk factors and treatment measures.

There is ongoing debate within the medical community about the best method of diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Well-known medically focused organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Mayo Clinic have defined clinical parameters that must be met in order to diagnose CFS as a medical condition.

A clinical diagnosis of CFS is given when a patient experiences excessive fatigue that is not considered a symptom of an existing medical condition. The fatigue does not get better after resting and may get worse after mental or physical exertion.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has in place a panel responsible for writing a report outlining how to diagnose CFS, which they now refer to as systemic exertion intolerance disease, or SEID.

What Puts You at Risk for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

This condition is also referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). Myalgic refers to muscle pain, and encephalomyelitis means spinal cord and brain inflammation.

Although the cause is not fully understood, it is suggested that some people may be more likely to develop it than others. Some conditions that may contribute to the development of CFS are listed below:



Viral infections

Since some individuals are diagnosed with CFS after being ill with a virus, it is possible that some viral infections may activate CFS in those who are susceptible. Although conclusive results have not been finalized, links between some specific viral infections and CFS are being researched, including human herpes virus 6, mouse leukemia virus, and Epstein-Barr virus.

Immune system problems

Although people who have been diagnosed with CFS tend to have immune system impairment, it is unknown at this time whether this impairment is the cause of their chronic fatigue syndrome.

Hormonal imbalances

Some people who have been diagnosed with CFS have also had test results indicating abnormal hormone levels in the adrenal, hypothalamus or pituitary glands, but it is unknown if the two conditions are related.


Chronic fatigue syndrome most often occurs in those who are in their 40s or 50s, but people of any age can be affected.


Men are not diagnosed with CFS as often as women, but this may be because men are less likely to communicate their symptoms to a medical professional.


There is evidence to suggest that people who have problems with managing stress may be more likely to develop CFS.

How Do You Know If You Have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Fatigue is the main symptom of CFS, but it is a different type of fatigue that you would expect to feel after being up all night, while experiencing a high level of stress, or after a busy workday.  Instead, it is an overwhelming, severe kind of fatigue that doesn’t get better after sleeping and gets worse after mental or physical activity.  It can severely lower the affected person’s level of activity and overall stamina from what it was prior to developing the condition, and therefore can impact educational, work, social and personal interactions.

People who are diagnosed with CFS have also experienced other symptoms for 6 or more months, as listed below:

  • feeling very ill and exhausted after mental or physical activity
  • difficulty sleeping
  • chronic muscle pain
  • concentration and memory problems
  • joint pain
  • swollen lymph nodes in the armpit or neck
  • sore throat
  • headache

Other chronic fatigue symptoms that are not used for diagnosis but may be experienced by people with the condition include:

  • dizziness, fainting, balance problems, or problems remaining upright
  • brain fog
  • irritable bowel
  • sensitivities or allergies to odors, chemicals, foods, noises or medications
  • night sweats or chills
  • mood problems such as depression, mood swings, irritability, panic attacks or anxiety

Be sure to see your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms to find out if you have CFS or another condition in order to begin receiving treatment.

Can Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Be Treated?

Although there is no diagnostic test available to confirm CFS, your doctor may order tests to rule out other medical conditions that cause the same symptoms. The treatment is focused on relieving and reducing the patient’s symptoms and maintaining quality of life.

Symptom Management

When joint or muscle pains are bothersome, painkillers can provide relief.  It is also helpful to eat smaller meals more frequently in order to reduce stomach upset.  There is no evidence that specific diets help to manage symptoms.

Since people with CFS can suffer from depression, and depression can make symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome worse, antidepressants may be able to help.

Quality of Life Management

  • It is important to manage your sleep because sleep pattern changes, such as sleeping too little or too much, can make you feel more fatigued.  It is a good idea to try to avoid napping in the daytime, and gradually make improvements to your sleep patterns.
  • It is important to get enough rest.  Plan on taking regular periods of rest each day for periods of no longer than half an hour at a time.
  • Be sure to take some time to relax, which is effective in reducing anxiety and stress, reducing pain, and helping with sleep issues.  Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and guided visualization, can be very effective.
  • Choose a well balanced diet and avoid any drinks or foods that you are sensitive to.  Try eating small meals regularly that are rich in starch.
  • Alternative medicine has been suggested by some for relief of CFS symptoms, although there is no definitive proof that it is effective. CFS related pain may be managed by massage, yoga, tai chi or acupuncture.
  • There is evidence that two kinds of therapy may help people who have been diagnosed with CFS. Psychotherapy can help you cope with your symptoms and physical therapy can assist with the evaluation and recommendation of an exercise plan that gets more intense over time, which is referred to as graded exercise therapy (GET).



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