Internal Medicine

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Fatigue should not be confused with being overtired or overworked. Unrelenting exhaustion lasts longer, is more profound and isn’t relieved by rest. Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a serious, long-term illness that affects many body systems. People with ME/CFS are often not able to do their usual activities.  The cause is largely unknown, and there is significant overlap with environmental and hormonal factors.

Lifestyle factors

Taking an honest inventory of things that might be responsible for your fatigue is often the first step toward relief. Fatigue may be related to one of the factors below. If none of these pertain, consult with a healthcare provider.

  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Excess physical activity
  • Jet lag disorder
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Lack of sleep
  • Medications, such as antihistamines, cough medicines
  • Unhealthy eating habits

Symptoms of CFS

Symptoms often mimic the flu. Below are the most common symptoms.

  • Sensitivity to light
  • Headache
  • Tender lymph nodes
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Insomnia
  • Forgetfulness
  • Mood swings
  • Confusion
  • Low-grade fever
  • Depression

Diagnosis

CFS diagnosis requires ruling out other possible conditions. According to the Institute of Medicine, a CFS diagnosis requires all 3 of the following symptoms:

  • Having to cut back greatly on activities you did before the illness. 
  • Severe tiredness after physical activity.
  • Sleep that doesn’t refresh you.

In addition, one of the following symptoms must be present:

  • Difficulty thinking. 
  • Orthostatic intolerance. This means standing upright makes symptoms worse. Lying back down or elevating your feet may ease the symptoms but does not fully get rid of them.

Treatment

There is no cure for CFS. Treatment is aimed at reducing symptoms and may include medications, light aerobic exercise, dietary supplements and/or psychotherapy.

When to see your Doctor

If your fatigue has persisted for two or more weeks despite making an effort to rest, reduce stress, choose a healthy diet and drink plenty of fluids, it’s time to see a doctor. Book your appointment online to schedule a visit with a CareMount Medical primary care provider. Dealing with severe fatigue can be very challenging. It’s important to work with your healthcare provider to find treatments that help you.