Beyond Exhausted: Understanding Chronic Fatigue Syndrome


It can be difficult to understand what it means to experience Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Family and friends, for example, may become irritated if you frequently need to postpone plans for a get-together, or if you make excuses to leave a get-together early.

I have a friend with CFS (let’s call her Jane) who told me that she rarely admits to feeling tired unless someone knows her extremely well. Even then, Jane feels embarrassed by how frequently she needs to use “I’m just too tired” as a reason for canceling plans.

Getting a Diagnosis

The first challenge for those with CFS may lie in finding a doctor who can diagnose the problem. My friend Jane, for example, was referred to multiple experts, from allergists to psychiatrists, before she located a physician who achieved the correct diagnosis.

Part of the challenge: there is no official laboratory test to diagnose CFS. The symptoms vary, adding to the problems in learning the cause of the fatigue. For example, some with CFS suffer from joint pain and sore throats; in Jane’s case, her main symptoms were her prolonged fatigue and frequent headaches.

Treatment Options

Once diagnosed, finding a “cure” isn’t easy. Many doctors suggest focusing on lifestyle changes as well as other remedies. For example, asking family members to share household tasks such as cleaning, keeping shopping trips short and simple, and making sure to get enough sleep each night all can help to some extent, as can attention to good nutrition.

Some patients also find help from alternative treatments, such as aromatherapy for relaxation. As with similar conditions that are challenging to treat, such as fibromyalgia, each patient is different in terms of what helps.

What Causes CFS?

Although researchers still have not determined the cause of CFS, some studies have indicated that there may be links to stress, genetic factors, and environmental factors. None of those possible causes, however, have been definitely linked to CFS. In Jane’s situation, for example, she has a twin sister who shared her childhood, roomed with her in college, and lives in the same town. Jane’s sister, however, as she puts it, “seems to have energy for two of us!”


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Care Continuum Alliance

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