Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

What is chronic fatigue syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a condition of severe tiredness not caused by other medical conditions. In addition to the tiredness, you may also have joint pain, headaches, or swollen lymph nodes.

What is the cause?

The cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is not known. It may be linked to problems with hormones, your immune system, or childhood trauma. You may also be at higher risk if someone in your family has CFS.

CFS is more common in women and people over 40 years old.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Feeling extremely tired or weak for more than 6 months
  • Feeling very tired for more than 24 hours after you have exercised or been more active than usual
  • Feeling tired even after getting several hours of sleep
  • Trouble concentrating or remembering things
  • Muscle or joint pain (without swelling or redness)
  • Headaches
  • Sore throat
  • Tender, swollen lymph nodes in your neck or armpits. Lymph nodes store blood cells (lymphocytes) to fight infection.

How is it diagnosed?

Your provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. There is no specific test for CFS. You may have tests or scans to check for other possible causes of your symptoms, such as:

  • Urine tests
  • Blood tests
  • Sleep study
  • Mental health evaluation to rule out depression or other conditions

How is it treated?

There is currently no known cure for CFS. You may keep having symptoms for months or years. Treatment focuses on helping to decrease your symptoms.

Exercise therapy can help lessen your symptoms. Exercise should start with slow and easy movement. You can increase the amount of exercise gradually with the goals of increasing muscle strength and energy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a way to help you identify and change views you have of yourself, the world, and the future. CBT can make you aware of unhealthy ways of thinking. It can also help you learn new ways to think and act.

Several kinds of medicine may lessen your symptoms:

  • Nonprescription medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen to treat pain. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
    • Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you don’t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.
  • Antidepressant medicines may help you have less pain, sleep better, and feel less tired.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:

  • If your provider recommended or prescribed medicine, take it exactly as directed. Ask your provider how soon the medicine should start helping you feel better. Let your provider know if it has helped. If it hasn’t, you may need a different dose or a different medicine.
  • Rest according to your healthcare provider’s recommendation. It is OK to lie down and rest for awhile, but too much rest can cause weak muscles and a loss of bone strength. It may also cause you to feel lightheaded when you get up and move around.
  • Learn to pace yourself. Prioritize your activities each day. Do the most important ones in the morning when your energy level may be higher. Ask for help at home and at work when the load is too great to handle. Take frequent rest breaks during the day to relax or walk.
  • Practice ways to treat pain and manage stress. For example, try relaxation exercises, water therapy, massage, or meditation. A therapist may be able to help with this.
  • Put moist heat on a sore area for up to 30 minutes to relieve pain. Moist heat includes heat patches or moist heating pads that you can buy at most drugstores, or a warm wet washcloth. To prevent burns to your skin, follow directions on the package and do not lie on any type of hot pad.
  • Take care of your health. Talk with your healthcare provider about how much sleep you should get each night. Eat a healthy diet and try to keep a healthy weight. If you smoke, try to quit. If you want to drink alcohol, ask your healthcare provider how much is safe for you to drink. Learn ways to manage stress. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.
  • Support groups can help you feel less alone. Groups also provide a safe place to share feelings.
  • Ask your provider:
    • How and when you will hear your test results
    • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
    • How to take care of yourself at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

For more information contact:

  • The Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS) Association of America
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-21
Last reviewed: 2014-10-08
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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