What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) affects more than one million individuals in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is also known technically as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), though chronic fatigue syndrome is used more often. CFS is a serious, complex disorder that is characterized by extreme fatigue that does not improve with bed rest, and may worsen with mental or physical activity. If you think you’re suffering from this condition, here’s what you should know.

Chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms 

Characteristic symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome include:

  • Extreme, unexplainable fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Muscle pain
  • Diminished memory
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Insomnia

Further, patients with chronic fatigue syndrome may report additional symptoms including:

  • Mental health disorders (i.e. depression)
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Night sweats
  • Visual disturbances
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty maintaining balance
  • Difficulty maintaining an upright position
  • Fainting
  • Brain fog
  • Allergies or intolerances to foods, medications, odors, noises, or chemicals

The symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome can be debilitating and often result in a substantial reduction in personal, occupational, educational, and social status.

Diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome 

Diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome can be difficult for physicians as there are no specific tests to diagnosis CFS; therefore, they work by eliminating other related conditions first.

Physicians typically perform a detailed medical history (including a review of medications) and a physical examination (including a mental status exam). They’ll typically follow this with laboratory tests, including blood and urine tests, to look for alternative causes of fatigue. If these initial laboratory tests indicate an alternative cause of fatigue, they’ll order further tests.

If the results do not indicate an alternative cause of fatigue, the patient may be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome if they meet the following three criteria:

  1. Severe, chronic fatigue lasting for a period of six or more consecutive months. The fatigue must not be the result of ongoing exertion or other medical conditions.
  2. The fatigue must interfere with normal activities.
  3. The patient must have four or more of the eight following symptoms concurrently that were not present before the fatigue.

These other symptoms include:

  • Post-exertion malaise that persists for longer than 24 hours
  • Non-restorative sleep
  • Substantial impairment in short-term memory or mental concentration
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain without redness or swelling
  • Headaches (new type, severity, or pattern)
  • Lymph node tenderness in the armpit or neck
  • Frequent or recurrent sore throat

What Causes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Even though there has been considerable research investigating the cause of CFS/ME, researchers have been unable to identify what causes this disorder.

Possible causes of chronic fatigue syndrome may include:

  • Infectious agents, such as borna disease virus, parvovirus B19, glandular fever, enterovirus, human herpes viruses 4, 6, and 7, infectious mononucleosis, Nipah virus encephalitis, and Q fever
  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Abnormally low blood pressure
  • Stress that activates the HPA axis (where the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands interact)

While researchers have yet to identify the cause of CFS, there are some characteristics that have been found to increase an individual’s risk of developing chronic fatigue syndrome, including:

  • Sex: Women are four times more likely to have this condition than men
  • Age: Individuals in their 40s and 50s are most at risk
  • Genetics: CFS is sometimes seen in family members; this does not indicate that it is contagious, rather that there may be a familial or genetic link to the disorder

Note that chronic fatigue syndrome occurs in all ethnic and racial groups worldwide and affects individuals of all income levels.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Causes And Treatments | PainDoctor.com

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Treatments

Chronic fatigue syndrome treatment can be complicated as the symptoms of the disorder typically vary over time. Additionally, no drugs treat CFS specifically. Symptoms of CFS vary dramatically among patients and treatment needs to be individualized for each patient.

Successful management of the disorder usually involves a team approach, including primary care physicians, mental health professionals, as well as rehabilitation and exercise specialists. This team of professionals works together to develop a custom approach that meets the needs of the patient. The main goal of chronic fatigue syndrome treatment is to help the patient get relief from the symptoms that they are experiencing.


Some patients with CFS may use medications to control their symptoms. Occasionally patients with chronic fatigue syndrome may also have depression, and are therefore prescribed antidepressants.

Treating a patient’s depression can make it much easier for them to cope with CFS. Further, low doses of certain antidepressants can help to improve sleep and reduce pain. If home treatment measures do not improve sleep, sleep aids may help patients experience better sleep.

Lifestyle interventions 

From a physical activity standpoint, graded exercise with a physical therapist may help. Exercise programs will often begin with range of motion and stretching exercises for a few minutes a day. Strength and endurance will likely improve gradually over time; at this point, the patient can increase exercise intensity.

Psychological counseling, including cognitive behavioral therapy, may also help some individuals learn how to work around the limitations that chronic fatigue syndrome places on them. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to reduce symptoms and improve functioning in some patients with this condition.

Alternative treatment options that may help to reduce CFS symptoms include acupuncture, massage, and yoga/tai chi.

Self care measures for individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome include:

  • Stress reduction: Allow time each day for relaxation in order to limit overexertion and emotional stress.
  • Improve sleep: Develop a sleep routine. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Limit napping throughout the day and limit or avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine.
  • Pace yourself: Keep activity levels consistent from day to day and don’t overdo it when you’re feeling good.


Chronic fatigue syndrome is a chronic, often debilitating, condition that is characterized by extreme fatigue that is not relieved by rest. The condition can be accompanied by many other symptoms including muscle pain, diminished memory, decreased ability to concentrate, and insomnia. The symptoms associated with CFS often limit an individual’s ability to carry on with normal activities of daily living.

Diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome can be difficult and involves excluding various other causes of chronic fatigue. Treatment of CFS is often multi-faceted and involves multiple practitioners. It may include pharmacological options, mental health counseling, alternative treatments, and self-care measures.

If you’re suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and pain, it may be time to talk to a pain specialist. You can find a pain doctor in your area by clicking the button below or looking for one in your area by using the tips here: https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.

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