CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), What It Is, Why It Happens, How Its Treated

Aug 06 2018

CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), What It Is, Why It Happens, How Its Treated

CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) is a complex and difficult illness. Its severity can vary, but at its worst-it is incapacitating.  The fatigue level is severe enough to keep one in bed. Currently, thee is no cure, but comprehensive treatment can bring some recovery.

Over a million Americans suffer from CFS. Women are four times more likely than men to develop the illness. This illness occurs most frequently in people in their 40s and 50s. There may be a genetic component, but there is no current evidence that it is contagious.






CFS: Causes

Medicine has made tremendous advances through the years, nevertheless, the causes for CFS are still unknown at this time. Possible catalysts include a faulty immune system, viral infection, or stress affecting body chemistry may trigger it. Scientists are also exploring possible connections to other things like long-term low blood pressure and genetics.


CFS: Symptoms-Fatigue

Everyone experiences fatigue at one time or another. However, the fatigue of CFS is unique as it is overwhelming, intense, and can last for at least six months. In most cases, the intense fatigue also comes with chronic pain. The joints may hurt without showing signs of redness or swelling. The cause of these symptoms is not well understood, but the pain can often be managed through medication or physical therapy.


In addition to fatigue and pain, other symptoms also include:

  • Memory problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weakness or dizziness


CFS: Diagnosis

There are no blood tests or brain scans for ME/CFS, but your health care team may run tests to rule out other conditions. ME/CFS is diagnosed when you have a moderately severe degree of:

  • More than 6 months of severe fatigue not explained by other condition and is not substantially alleviated by rest AND.
  • Post-exertional malaise (Worsening of ME/CFS symptoms after physical or mental activity that would not have caused a problem before illness. This is known as post-exertional malaise (PEM) AND
  •  Unrefreshing sleep


  • Cognitive impairment
  • feeling much better when laying down compared to standing up.



Graded exercise therapy is one form of treatment that has been effective. Exercises starts slowly and gradually the duration of exercise increases over time. The goal is to avoid overdoing it and experiencing a letdown. It’s important not to avoid all physical activity, or the muscles can become deconditioned. Graded exercise therapy can help you adapt your activity level to the fluctuations in your condition.



Medications are primarily used to relieve symptoms, such as sleep problems and chronic pain. Some medications, such as tricyclic antidepressants, can reduce pain and improve sleep. Many people CFS are sensitive to medications and may need lower doses.


Other Therapies

The objective is pain management. Exercises will include stretching, toning exercises, massage, hydrotherapy, and relaxation techniques. Acupuncture has also bee effective in controlling chronic pain.



CFS: Diet Is Key

Doctors recommend a well-balanced diet for people with CFS, but no specific dietary strategy has been widely accepted. Essential fatty acids, found in nuts, seeds, and cold water fish, may reduce fatigue. Stay away, or at least minimize your intake of refined sugar, caffeine, and alcohol.


CFS Outlook

The percentage of people who make a full recovery from CFS is not known. But some people enjoy long periods of remission, especially by learning to manage their activity levels. Early treatment with stress reduction and graded exercise therapy may increase the chances for improvement. These therapies are effective when used together and can treat a wide range of symptoms.

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Barry G

Barry graduated from City University of New York and holds a Ph.D. in Physiological Psychology.

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