Definition

What is chronic fatigue syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complicated disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that can’t be explained by any underlying medical condition. The fatigue may worsen with physical or mental activity, but doesn’t improve with rest.

How common is chronic fatigue syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) affects more than one million people in the United States. There are tens of millions of people with similar fatiguing illnesses who do not fully meet the strict research definition of CFS. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome?

The common symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome are:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of memory or concentration
  • Sore throat
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
  • Unexplained muscle pain
  • Pain that moves from one joint to another without swelling or redness
  • Headache of a new type, pattern or severity
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

 

Causes

What causes chronic fatigue syndrome?

Scientists don’t know exactly what causes chronic fatigue syndrome. It may be a combination of factors that affect people who were born with a predisposition for the disorder.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for chronic fatigue syndrome?

There are many risk factors for chronic fatigue syndrome, such as:

  • Age. Chronic fatigue syndrome can occur at any age, but it most commonly affects people in their 40s and 50s.
  • Sex. Women are diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome much more often than men, but it may be that women are simply more likely to report their symptoms to a doctor.
  • Stress. Difficulty managing stress may contribute to the development of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is chronic fatigue syndrome diagnosed?

There’s no single test to confirm a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. Because the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome can mimic so many other health problems, you may need patience while waiting for a diagnosis.

Your doctor must rule out a number of other illnesses before diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome. These may include:

  • Sleep disorders. Chronic fatigue can be caused by sleep disorders. A sleep study can determine if your rest is being disturbed by disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome or insomnia.
  • Medical problems. Fatigue is a common symptom in several medical conditions, such as anemia, diabetes and underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). Lab tests can check your blood for evidence of some of the top suspects.
  • Mental health issues. Fatigue is also a symptom of a variety of mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. A counselor can help determine if one of these problems is causing your fatigue.

Diagnostic criteria

To meet the diagnostic criteria of chronic fatigue syndrome, or myalgic encephalomyelitis, you must have unexplained, persistent fatigue for six months or more, along with at least four of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Loss of memory or concentration
  • Sore throat
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
  • Unexplained muscle pain
  • Pain that moves from one joint to another without swelling or redness
  • Headache of a new type, pattern or severity
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise

How is chronic fatigue syndrome treated?

Because chronic fatigue syndrome affects people in many different ways, your treatment will be tailored to your specific set of symptoms. Symptom relief may include certain medications:

  • Many people who have chronic fatigue syndrome are also depressed. Treating your depression can make it easier for you to cope with the problems associated with chronic fatigue syndrome. Low doses of some antidepressants also can help improve sleep and relieve pain.
  • Sleeping pills. If home measures, such as avoiding caffeine, don’t help you get better rest at night, your doctor might suggest trying prescription sleep aids.

There’s no known cure for chronic fatigue syndrome, and the most effective treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome remains uncertain. However, there’s evidence that a multipronged approach may be helpful:

  • Pace yourself. Keep your activity on an even level. If you do too much on your good days, you may have more bad days.
  • Graded exercise. In order to improve daily function, more than pacing alone is needed. Previous studies suggest that graded exercise is an effective and safe treatment, but evidence for this remains limited.

A physical therapist can help determine what types of exercise are best for you. Inactive people often begin with range-of-motion and stretching exercises for just a few minutes a day. Slow, incremental increases in activity then take place over weeks to months.

Talking with a counselor can help you figure out options to work around some of the limitations that chronic fatigue syndrome imposes on you. Feeling more in control of your life can improve your outlook dramatically. Cognitive behavioral therapy and self-management strategies are among the most helpful.

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage chronic fatigue syndrome?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with chronic fatigue syndrome:

  • Reduce stress. Develop a plan to avoid or limit overexertion and emotional stress. Allow yourself time each day to relax. That may mean learning how to say no without guilt.
  • Improve sleep habits. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Limit daytime napping and avoid caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.
  • Pace yourself. Keep your activity on an even level. If you do too much on your good days, you may have more bad days.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: August 4, 2017 | Last Modified: August 4, 2017

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