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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 4, 2023.

What is chronic fatigue syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a long-term illness that causes severe physical and mental exhaustion. The extreme tiredness may make it hard or impossible to do daily tasks.

What causes CFS?

The cause of CFS is not known. It may run in families. It may be caused by problems with your immune system. The symptoms likely have more than one trigger. You may have your first symptoms after you have had an infection, such as a cold or the flu. Your symptoms may begin after a very stressful time in your life.

What are the signs and symptoms of CFS?

Symptoms of CFS may change from day to day and can range from mild to severe. CFS can start suddenly, or the symptoms may come on slowly. The symptoms may come and go, or last for months to years. You may have any of the following:

  • Problems remembering or concentrating
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen or tender lymph nodes
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue that does not go away after you rest
  • Fatigue that lasts longer than 24 hours after exercise or strenuous activity

How is CFS diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will do a physical exam. You may need blood tests or other tests to diagnose CFS. You must have certain symptoms for at least 6 months for your healthcare provider to diagnose CFS.

How can I help manage my symptoms?

  • Exercise regularly as directed. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you. You may need to start with low intensity exercise for short periods of time. Exercise can help decrease your symptoms and help you have more energy. You may be able to increase your exercise as you get stronger. Start slowly and gradually increase activity so your symptoms do not get worse.
  • Rest as needed. 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.
  • 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.
  • Care for your sore joints or muscles. Apply heat for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Ice may also help. You can alternate heat and ice. Apply ice 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 before you place it on your skin.
  • Keep a record of your activities and symptoms each day. This record will help you learn when you have the most energy. You will also be able to follow your progress. Bring this record with you to your follow-up visits.
  • Get support. Talk to your healthcare provider, counselor, family, or friends about your feelings. Cognitive behavior therapy can teach you how to manage changes in your relationships and lifestyle. Family therapy can help you and your family members manage the stress of CFS.
  • Medicines may be given to help decrease your symptoms, such as joint pain, depression, anxiety, or fever. You may be more sensitive to medicines. Talk to your healthcare provider before you take any vitamins, herbs, or over-the-counter medicines.
Wellness Tips

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

Call 911 if

you think about hurting yourself or someone else.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have new symptoms that you are worried about.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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