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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome


Topic Overview

What is chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)?

Chronic fatigue syndrome, sometimes called CFS, is a condition that makes you feel so tired that you can't do all of your normal, daily activities. There are other symptoms too, but being very tired for at least 6 months is the main one.

Many people improve in a year or two and do not have a relapse. Some people continue to have severe fatigue and other symptoms for many years.

The disease is not well understood. Most experts now believe that it is a separate illness with its own set of symptoms. But some doctors do not believe this.

There are no tests for CFS. Because of this, many people have trouble accepting their disease or getting their friends and family to do so. Having people who believe your diagnosis and support you is very important. Having a doctor you can trust is critical.

Your tiredness is real. It's not "in your head." It is your body's reaction to a combination of emotional and physical factors.

What causes CFS?

Doctors don't know what causes CFS. Sometimes it begins after an illness like the flu, but there is no proof of any connection. It's likely that a number of factors or triggers come together to cause CFS.

What are the symptoms?

Extreme tiredness, or fatigue, is the main symptom. If you have CFS:

  • You may feel exhausted all or much of the time.
  • You may have problems sleeping, or you may wake up feeling tired or not rested.
  • It may be harder for you to think clearly, to concentrate, and to remember things.
  • You may also have headaches, muscle and joint pain, a sore throat, and tender glands in your neck or armpits.
  • Your symptoms may flare up after a mental or physical activity that used to be no problem for you.

Depression is common with CFS, and it can make your other symptoms worse. Antidepressant medicines can help you feel better.

How is CFS diagnosed?

There are no tests for CFS. Doctors can diagnose it only by ruling out other possible causes of your fatigue. Many other health problems can cause fatigue, and most people with fatigue have something other than chronic fatigue syndrome.

How is it treated?

There is no treatment for CFS itself, but many of its symptoms can be treated. A good relationship with your doctor is important, because the two of you will need to work together to find a combination of medicines and behavior changes that will help you get better. Some trial and error may be needed, because no single combination of treatments works for everyone.

Home treatment is very important. You may need to change your daily schedule, learn better sleep habits, and start getting regular gentle exercise.

Counseling and a gradual increase in exercise help people who have CFS get better.

Even though it may not be easy, keeping a good attitude really helps. Try not to get caught in a cycle of frustration, anger, and depression. Learning to cope with your symptoms and talking to others who have the same illness can help you keep a good attitude.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS):

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Living with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS):

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