Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a condition that causes chronic, debilitating fatigue. It continues for at least 6 months. The fatigue is not relieved by bed rest. People who have CFS perform at a significantly lower level compared to their activity prior to the onset of the illness.
The cause of CFS is unknown. Some believe there may be a link between CFS and stress, the immune system, toxins, the central nervous system, or activation of latent virus.
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Women are more likely to have CFS than men. It is also more common in people between 25-55 years of age.
Symptoms vary from person to person. They include: Unexplained, new onset, persistent fatigue that is not relieved with bed rest and often worsens with physical or mental activityUnexplained muscle achesJoint pain without swelling or redness over 6 monthsHeadaches over 6 monthsTrouble with short-term memory or concentration a "brain fog"Forgetfulness or confusion
, panic attacks, mood swings, or
over 6 months
Tender lymph nodes over 6 monthsTrouble sleeping or not feeling refreshed after sleep over 6 monthsVisual disturbances (eyes sensitive to light, blurring, pain)Reduced activities (social, job-related, educational, and personal)Lightheadedness, balance problems, or faintingChills and night sweats
Allergies or sensitivities to
, chemicals, odors, medications, or noise
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. There are no specific diagnostic tests for CFS. Your doctor may do several other tests to rule out other conditions that can have similar symptoms.
The doctor will look for the following signs to determine if you have CFS: Severe, chronic fatigue for at least 6 months that is not due to another illness or medical cause, along with:
At least 4 of the following symptoms according to the International Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Study Group Criteria:
Impairment of short-term memory or concentrationSore throatTender lymph nodesMuscle painJoint pain without swelling or rednessHeadaches of a new type, severity, or patternUnrefreshing sleepProlonged fatigue lasting 24 hours or more after exercise
The main goal of CFS treatment is to achieve symptom relief.
Treatments for CFS include:
If you have CFS, avoid overexertion and physical and emotional stress. Balancing your activities throughout the day may help you to not overexert yourself. Moderate exercise that is monitored by a doctor or physical therapist may improve symptoms. Slowly increase the duration and intensity of exercise. Light exercise and stretching 4 hours before bedtime may help with sleep.
In addition, your doctor may have you work with a physical therapist. Some therapies that might be helpful for you include: MassageStretchingTai chiYoga
can help prevent nutritional deficiencies and weight fluctuations. Nutritional supplements cannot make up for an inadequate diet. Avoid foods to which you may be sensitive.
CFS can be mentally and physically debilitating.
is common among people with CFS. In fact, as many as half develop depression as a consequence of CFS. Psychotherapy and supportive
often help those with CFS cope with the disorder. Learning relaxation training and
stress management techniques
, as well as changing your sleep routine, may also help.
Talk with your therapist about whether cognitive behavioral therapy is right for you to reduce fatigue symptoms.
Medications used to treat specific symptoms of CFS include:
AntidepressantsAnti-anxiety drugsOver-the-counter medications like
acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen to treat pain and feverStimulants—mild ones may be helpful
Sedatives—to help with
There are no current guidelines for preventing CFS because the cause is unknown.
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Chronic fatigue syndrome.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/cfs/index.html. Updated May 16, 2012. Accessed December 28, 2012.
Chronic fatigue syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 10, 2012. Accessed December 28, 2012.
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3/3/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: White P, Goldsmith K, et al. Comparison of adaptive pacing therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, graded exercise therapy, and specialist medical care for chronic fatigue syndrome (PACE): a randomised trial.
10/1/2013 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
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Last reviewed December 2014 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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