Want to know more about chronic fatigue syndrome?

We asked the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for answers to basic questions.

We know: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Facts

What is chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)?

The National Institutes of Health website encyclopedia defines chronic fatigue syndrome as "a condition of prolonged and severe tiredness or weariness (fatigue) that is not relieved by rest and is not directly caused by other conditions. To be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, the tiredness must be severe enough to decrease ability to participate in ordinary activities by 50%."

Today, CFS also is known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, postviral fatigue syndrome, and chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome.

What are the symptoms of CFS?

Unlike influenza symptoms, which usually go away in a few days or weeks, CFS symptoms either hang on or come and go frequently for more than 6 months.

Symptoms can include:

  • Headache
  • Tender lymph nodes
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Inability to concentrate

How common is chronic fatigue syndrome?

Because there is no specific laboratory test or clinical sign for CFS, no one knows how many people are affected by this illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates, however, that as many as 500,000 people in the United States have CFS or a CFS-like condition.

What causes CFS and how is it diagnosed?

While no one knows what causes CFS, for more than a century, doctors have reported seeing illnesses similar to it. Because the causes of CFS remain essentially unknown, the only way to make the diagnosis is to rule out other causes of the same symptoms.

How long does the condition last?

For most people, CFS symptoms reach a certain level and become stable early in the course of illness and thereafter come and go. Some people get better completely, but it is not clear how frequently this happens. Emotional support and counseling can help you and your loved ones cope with the uncertain outlook and the ups and downs of this illness.

What are the treatments?

There is no proven, effective treatment, but the following strategies can help.

Antidepressants sometimes help to improve sleep and relieve mild, general pain in people with CFS.

Some people with CFS benefit from medicines used to treat acute anxiety as well as other nervous system problems such as dizziness and extreme tenderness in the skin.

Learning how to manage your fatigue, in spite of your symptoms, may help you improve the level at which you can function as well as your quality of life. Health experts recommend that you try to maintain good health by --

  1. Eating a balanced diet and getting adequate rest
  2. Exercising regularly but without causing more fatigue
  3. Pacing yourself-physically, emotionally, and intellectually-because too much stress can aggravate your symptoms

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