Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is an illness that causes extreme fatigue that cannot be explained by any other medical condition. If you have CFS/ME you are likely to feel very tired, very often, even if you have not been active. You may also have a host of other symptoms.
Doctors do not yet understand the cause or causes of CFS/ME, and there is no simple cure. But if you or your child has CFS/ME, your doctor can suggest treatments you may find helpful.
Symptoms and diagnosis
The most common symptom is ongoing, unexplained overwhelming tiredness or fatigue as a result of minimal physical or mental effort. This is known as post-exertional malaise (PEM).
Other symptoms may include:
- muscle pain
- joint pain
- sore throat
- loss of memory or poor concentration
- not feeling refreshed after being asleep
- enlarged lymph nodes
- unusual tiredness after exercise
This tiredness may be your only symptom, or you may also have any or all of the other symptoms.
Some people experience mild symptoms, and others more intense symptoms.
There is no single test to diagnose CFS/ME. Your doctor will diagnose CFS/ME based on your symptoms and how long you have had them. Your doctor may do some tests to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms before diagnosing CFS/ME.
Patients can be diagnosed with CFS/ME only after they have had symptoms for 6 months or more.
Check your symptoms with the healthdirect Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
Managing your symptoms
It may help if you:
- relax as much as possible
- try to go to bed at the same time each night and limit daytime napping
- limit your activity, even on good days — otherwise you may have more days when you are exhausted
- pace yourself — keep your activity level even
- avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and anything else that could affect your sleep
Your doctor can also suggest treatments such as:
- medicines — for depression if you are feeling depressed, or pills to help you sleep soundly at night
- gentle graded exercise — which means you try different types of exercise that suit you, and increase the level of activity when you are ready
- psychological counseling
- cognitive behavioural therapy
Any suggested treatments for your symptoms will aim to make you physically, mentally or emotionally stronger. There is no simple cure. Any commercially available product or treatment promoted as a cure for CFS/ME should be treated with caution.
Your doctor may also suggest working with other healthcare professionals such as a psychologist and physical therapist.
You may want to talk to your doctor about how to manage work or school commitments while you are sick and when you feel you might be ready to return. Try to pace your activities so that you do not spend more energy than you have while you are ill.
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Last reviewed: January 2019