Skip to Content

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome


Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a long-term illness that can be hard to diagnose. The main symptom of CFS is extreme fatigue (tiredness) that may make it hard or impossible to do daily tasks.



  • Medicines may help decrease depression and anxiety. You may also need medicines to decrease muscle and joint pain, or to help you sleep.

  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your primary healthcare provider (PHP) if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your PHP as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Manage your CFS symptoms:

Your PHP may suggest some of the following treatments or lifestyle changes to help decrease your CFS symptoms:

  • Find how much activity you can do without making your CFS symptoms worse. Learn to pace yourself. A regular daily routine may help you avoid doing too much on the days that you feel better. Do not try to get everything done on good days. This can worsen CFS symptoms in the days that follow.

  • Get regular exercise, but decrease your activity if it causes fatigue or other symptoms. You may need to set new goals. For example, set a goal of exercising for 5 minutes instead of your usual 30 minutes. It is best to start slowly and do more as you get stronger. Stop if you get too tired. Exercise can help to keep you from losing too much of your strength while you are ill. Ask your PHP to help you plan the best exercise program for you.

  • Rest as needed. Rest is the most important treatment for CFS. Take naps and change your schedule to fit your energy level. You may need to take 5 to 10 minute rest periods every hour or more. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same times every day.

  • Care for your joints or muscles:

    • Apply heat on your joints or muscles for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Use a heating pad (turned on low) or a hot water bottle, or sit in a warm bath. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms.

    • Apply ice on your muscles or joints for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Some people find that ice works better to decrease muscle or joint aches.

  • Other tips:

    • Keep track of how you are doing from day to day. Write down your activities and symptoms in a diary or calendar. This record will help you learn when you have the most energy. You will also be able to follow your progress. Bring this diary with you when you see your PHP.

    • Write yourself notes to remind you to do things if you are having trouble with your memory. Give yourself more time to do activities that need more attention. Set an alarm clock to help you remember when to exercise, take your medicines, or do other activities.

Manage stress:

Stress may make your symptoms worse. The following may help you cope with stress:

  • Get emotional support. Talk to your PHP, family, or friends about your feelings. You may need counseling to help you cope. Cognitive behavior therapy can teach you how to deal with changes in your relationships and lifestyle. Family therapy can help you and your family members deal with the stress of CFS.

  • Learn new ways to relax , such as deep breathing, meditation, or muscle relaxation. Ask for more information about relaxation methods that may be right for you.

Contact your PHP if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have new symptoms that you are worried about.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You think about hurting yourself or someone else.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (Discharge Care)