A woman laying in bed with a pillow on top of her head.
Chronic fatigue syndrome often results in constant exhaustion, headaches and swollen lymph nodes.

Learning About Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that does not go away with rest. CFS affects a huge portion of the population, many of whom do not even know they have it. According to the Institute of Medicine, an estimated 836,000 to 2.5 million Americans suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, but about 90% of people with this illness go undiagnosed. Many people do not even know what CFS is, so this article will detail the chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms, causes and treatments of this common but mysterious illness.

What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome has been around for a long time, but has had a variety of names throughout history. It was not until around the 1980s that CFS came to be known by that name.

Even today, CFS is also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis or systemic exertion intolerance disease. All these terms refer to the same disease.

The causes of CFS are not entirely known, but some hypotheses include:

  • Viruses. A number of viruses have been investigated in relation to CFS, including Epstein-Barr (mono) and rubella.
  • Stress. Some people with CFS report it began after some physically traumatic event like a surgery.
  • Compromised immune system. Some scientists hypothesize that CFS can be caused by the body failing to fight off regular infections.
  • Hormonal imbalances. Hormones related to energy regulation and sleep may be a factor in CFS.

Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The symptoms of CFS can be broad and can impact various parts of a person’s life. They can include physical and mental symptoms, or both at the same time. They may also come and go over a period of time. Some of the main symptoms of CFS:

  • Extreme fatigue for more than 24 hours after physical or mental activity. CFS fatigue does not go away after sleep.
  • Poor concentration or difficulties with memory and attention
  • Dizziness or faintness upon standing or sitting
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Headaches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Flu-like symptoms
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Risk Factors for CFS

While the causes of CFS are not entirely known, there are some known risk factors:

  • Age: people in their 40s and 50s are more likely to experience CFS.
  • Sex: Women are two to four times more likely to experience CFS.
  • Genetic factors and stress: One hypothesis about CFS suggests that it may be caused by genetic factors that are then triggered by a stressful event.

What Are the Treatment and Management Options?

Treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome can be rather difficult for several reasons. First, it is often hard to get a diagnosis. Because chronic fatigue syndrome is poorly understood and is an invisible illness for which there are no standard lab tests, people, especially women, may struggle to get a diagnosis from their doctors. CFS can generally only be diagnosed when all other possible causes are eliminated, so many people never know they have the disease.

The other issue with treating CFS is that it is a difficult disease to treat even after it is diagnosed. Because the causes are not known, treatment often focuses around managing symptoms.

Treating Post-Exertional Malaise Symptoms

PEM is a dimension of CFS in which symptoms become much worse after even minimal exertion. This can make the condition far more debilitating and is the first target for treatment. The treatments for these symptoms are largely behavioral and involve strategizing, activity management (pacing) and keeping notes of how much activity produces symptoms. It’s important to set realistic limits and stick to them to avoid feeling much worse.

Home Remedies and Self-Care

Maintaining a healthy diet, limiting caffeine intake and creating a sleep routine can help reduce symptoms of CFS and make other treatments more effective.


Not all patients with CFS will be prescribed medication. Unfortunately, there is no “CFS pill” because the underlying cause of the disorder is not well understood. However, some people with CFS can benefit from medications like antidepressants, sleep aids, or painkillers. There is no standardized medication for CFS, so doctors and patients have to work together to develop a medication plan for CFS.

Alternative Medicine

Acupuncture, yoga, or massage may also be good alternatives for reducing the pain associated with CFS. Though these are not treatments that are generally prescribed by a doctor, they should still be discussed prior to starting treatment.

In Review

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a difficult illness to treat, but no difficulties compare with those of the people suffering. Many people with CFS are sick for a long time and do not know what is wrong with them.

If after reading the information in this article you think you may have CFS, talk to your doctor about what you are experiencing. While CFS can be a struggle, it is possible to find the treatment that works for you and live a regular life. By reading this article and informing yourself, you have already taken the first important step.