Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disorder in which a person experiences extreme chronic fatigue that cannot be explained by any underlying medical condition. The fatigue may get worse with activity but it is not improved with rest. Besides fatigue, there are eight official symptoms associated with CFS: loss of memory or concentration, sore throat, enlarged lymph nodes, muscle pain, joint pain, headaches, unrefreshing sleep and extreme exhaustion lasting for more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise. It is unclear what exactly causes CFS, but several theories include viral infections, immune system problems and hormone imbalances. CFS is often seen in conjunction with another illness such as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).
Diagnosing CFS can often be difficult because the symptoms are very similar to the symptoms of many other illnesses. Generally CFS is diagnosed after someone has been consistently fatigued for more than six months and/or has experienced at least four of the eight official symptoms. Treatment for CFS focuses on relieving symptoms and may include medication, graded exercise or counseling. Some find it helpful to reduce their stress, improve their sleep habits or simply pace themselves.
The exhaustion and array of other symptoms that accompany CFS can have a big impact on a person’s lifestyle and routine – some days more than others. Although it can be tempting for people with CFS to push themselves on the days they feel better, many agree that it is incredibly important to pace yourself and say “no” to activities that might worsen the fatigue. Dividing up big tasks or chores into smaller and more manageable chunks is a good example of how to manage the illness while still performing one’s usual activities.
There are several organizations that aim to understand CFS so that better treatments options may be provided to patients. There are also a number of support groups that exist to help and connect people with CFS.