What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Feeling tired is quite natural, especially when you’ve had an overly busy day (or week). However, a good night’s sleep, a day off, or a change of pace should be enough to dash away that tiredness and refresh you for a new day. When that doesn’t happen, it’s possible that you might be suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

CFS is a disorder where one experiences extreme tiredness or fatigue that can’t be eliminated in the usual ways. There isn’t any surefire explanation for CFS, though some have theorized that it may occur due to stress, viral infections, or some combination of factors.

Unfortunately, there are also no tests you can take to determine if you have CFS or not. A doctor will diagnose you with CFS after ruling out any other possible causes for your fatigue. If you have been diagnosed with CFS, take heart in the fact that it’s not a controversial diagnosis but an actual medical condition that you can handle.

There are several ways to cope with chronic fatigue, but the first step is knowing as much about the issue as possible. Let’s look at some facts about this condition now:

The Causes

As mentioned above, there’s no known direct cause of CFS. At the most, we can pinpoint a number of factors that might lead to a person developing CFS. These factors include hormonal imbalance, high levels of stress, contracting viruses, or a weak immune system. There might also be a genetic predisposition towards CFS in some individuals.  

CFS might develop after one has been through a viral infection, but there’s no definitive research on the kind of infection that might lead to this condition. The Ross River virus, rubella, the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and human herpesvirus 6 are some of the viruses that have been studied for their possible links to CFS.

Some research centers have also been investigating the theory that CFS could be the end result of several conditions instead of being a medical condition in itself. This theory is supported by the fact that about 1 in 10 people who have contracted the viruses listed above will go on to develop CFS. What’s more, if you’ve suffered from several symptoms from such infections, you’re at higher risk of CFS later on.

Those At Risk

CFS has been known to affect people regardless of age or gender, but it is more often diagnosed in women (around 2 to 4 times more than men). Females in their 40s and 50s might be at even higher risk for this condition.

Other risk factors for CFS include stress factors in our daily lives, allergies, and even environmental issues. With the risk of genetic predisposition as well, there’s still no surefire way of avoiding CFS even with a well-managed routine.


The symptoms of CFS are quite varied, but its’ important to learn what they are in order to make a more accurate diagnosis. Different individuals may experience different symptoms. Some might also experience more severe symptoms than others.

Of course, the first and foremost symptom of CFS is extreme fatigue. This is not something like a slight tiredness or feeling lazy throughout the day. The fatigue with this condition is so severe that it would actually interfere with your daily routine. For instance, you might find it hard to fulfill your work goals on a regular basis; if you’re unable to muster strength even for urgent projects, there’s clearly a problem. This issue has to go for a minimum of six months in order to be considered for a CFS diagnosis.

Another telling symptom is that the tiredness doesn’t go away even if you rest up. You might be getting a full night’s sleep but still be exhausted and run-down when you wake up.

The fatigue is even more pronounced after one performs any activity, whether it’s mental or physical. This is also known as post-exertional malaise or PEM. The extreme fatigue after the activity can last for up to 24 hours.

In addition to the matter of feeling tired after sleep, other sleeping issues may also arise with CFS. These include chronic insomnia, which might not let you sleep at all. Sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome might also occur in such cases.

Other symptoms of CFS include a loss of memory, a reduction in concentration, muscle pain, recurrent headaches, joint pain (without swelling or redness), a sore throat, swelling of the lymph nodes, etc. Orthostatic intolerance might also occur, which is a state that makes you dizzy or lightheaded when you get up from a lying position.

The symptoms of CFS might not remain the same all the time. In fact, many people experience their CFS condition in cycles, with periods of feeling better or worse. There might also be a remission state, where the symptoms might disappear altogether. However, there could very well be a relapse later on, where the symptoms come back in full force.

All these disturbing symptoms, remissions, and relapses might put quite a heavy burden on one’s psychological state. The constant tiredness could also lead to depressive thoughts. In fact, depression is yet another symptom of CFS that might negatively affect our lives.

Diagnosis Of CFS

It’s quite challenging to determine a diagnosis of CFS. In 2015, the Institute of Medicine determined that up to 2.5 million Americans suffered from CFS. Most of this group, unfortunately, has remained undiagnosed because of the tricky nature of this condition.

The low rate of diagnosis for CFS is due to several reasons, especially the fact that the symptoms are so similar to that of other issues. Many people feel tired and stressed out for long periods of time, while their unhealthy sleeping cycles might make them feel like they never get enough rest.

Simply feeling tired is also something that many people dismiss, both for themselves and for others. Many individuals that suffer from CFS might not have the physical appearance of a sick person, so the chances of them getting a proper diagnosis are quite low. There are several books that can help to guide a diagnosis and treatment method for those with CFS. 

Before any decent doctor will give a diagnosis of CFS, they will run tests and ask questions to rule out any other causes of that tiredness. They will also review the patient’s medical history and see how long the symptoms have been going on. Once they’ve confirmed that the core symptoms are present, they will ask how long they’ve been going on and how severe they are. Even doctors can suffer from CFS, as is chronicled in this work

Conditions With Similar Symptoms

Since ruling out other possible conditions is a major part of diagnosing CFS, we should also know about these other medical issues. If someone is experiencing symptoms similar to those of CFS, they might alternatively be suffering from Lyme disease, lupus, fibromyalgia, mononucleosis, multiple sclerosis, hypothyroidism, obesity (in an extreme form), or major depressive disorder. The reason for that extreme fatigue might also be sleep disorders themselves, which prevent you from getting proper rest through sleep.  

You might notice that all of these conditions are quite serious. This is why it’s important not to self-diagnose in such cases. If you suspect you have CFS or notice some symptoms that might point towards this condition, talk to a doctor right away.

Treatment for CFS

Since there no direct cause of CFS, there’s no direct cure either. Each individual might experience differing symptoms and hence require different treatments. The most we can do is to relieve the symptoms for now and hope that science comes up with a cure before too long. This treatment guide might help us along the way. 

Handling the symptoms of CFS might include activity management, which consists of balancing activity and rest in order to avoid PEM episodes. CFS patients also need to work out their unique limits for both physical and mental activities. With proper planning and regular rest, it might be possible to manage that extreme tiredness and get things done in a normal fashion.

Some doctors might recommend keeping an activity diary and chalking out an ‘energy envelope’ to stay within one’s activity limits. However, it’s important to note here that vigorous exercise is definitely not the answer.

Lifestyle Changes

If someone has been diagnosed with CFS, they might find it worthwhile to make some healthy lifestyle changes to manage their symptoms. CFS is not something that’s likely to go away anytime soon, so it’s best to make these changes for your own comfort and health right away. Your doctor might prescribe something like this supplement, but you can gain even more positive effects by doing the following: 

  • Limiting caffeine intake as much as possible, or even eliminating it
  • Limiting or doing away with nicotine and alcohol
  • Avoiding naps during the daytime
  • Making a routine before going to bed and sticking to a sleep schedule


A CFS diagnosis might be tough to bear, but it’s not the end of the world. Once you know what you’re dealing with, each day will hopefully become easier than the previous one. Ask for help when you need it, and make sure to take care of your health above all.