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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – Test, Diet, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Updated on January 30, 2014

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complex condition wherein affected people experience intense exhaustion that has no known underlying medical causes. Such fatigue may aggravate due to mental or physical activities, but does not get better with rest.

Chronic fatigue syndrome has no known causes. A number of theories however suggest that the condition may be caused due to varied reasons such as psychological stress, viral infections, etc. There are many other medical experts who think that a combination of varied factors can also trigger the onset of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Chronic fatigue syndrome cannot be diagnosed by one single standard test. Affected individuals may be asked to undergo several different kinds of diagnostic procedures and tests to eliminate other diseases that elicit similar symptoms. The treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome is aimed at alleviating the debilitating symptoms.

Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Officially, chronic fatigue syndrome consists of 8 symptoms as well as the primary symptom from which the disorder derives its name. The symptoms are as follows:

  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Decreased levels of concentration or memory loss
  • Lymph nodes in the armpits or neck experience enlargement
  • Presence of pain that migrates from one joint to another. There is no redness or swelling of the joints
  • Inexplicable pain in the muscles
  • New types of headache with different severity levels or pattern
  • Severe tiredness post mental or physical exercises. Such exhaustion can last for over 24 hours.
  • Sleep that is not refreshing

Chronic fatigue syndrome can result in certain complications such as restrictions on the lifestyle, depression, increased absences from work, and social isolation.

Causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Medical experts are not aware about the exact causes of chronic fatigue syndrome. It is believed that people with a genetic predisposition to the condition may develop the condition after exposure to a combination of certain factors. Some of the common factors which have been found to have a linkage with chronic fatigue syndrome are listed below:

  • Immune system abnormalities: Studies indicate that individuals affected chronic fatigue syndrome seem to possess a compromised immune system. However, it is not clear as to whether such weakening can actually cause the condition.
  • Viral infections: It has been noticed that some individuals tend to develop chronic fatigue syndrome post a viral infection. This has given rise to the theory that viral infections may trigger the syndrome. Some of the suspect viruses include human herpes virus 6, Epstein-Barr, and mouse leukemia virus. The theory is however yet to be empirically confirmed.
  • Imbalances in hormones: The levels of hormones secreted by the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, or adrenal glands occurring in the blood of chronic fatigue syndrome patients have sometimes been found to be abnormal. The significance of such hormonal imbalances is not known as yet.

Besides the above listed triggers, there are some other risk factors that can increase the vulnerability to developing chronic fatigue syndrome. They include:

  • People of all age groups can be affected by chronic fatigue syndrome. It is however common in 40 to 50 year olds.
  • Increased stress, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle can also increase the risk
  • More women are affected by chronic fatigue syndrome than men. This can however be attributed to the fact that women are more likely to consult a doctor about the abnormal symptoms.

Diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome are similar to those elicited by a variety of disorders. Hence, there is no one standard diagnostic test for the condition. Doctors will usually perform many different diagnostic procedures to rule out the possibility of other diseases before arriving at a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. A few such illnesses include:

  • Diabetes, anemia, hypothyroidism, and other such health problems elicit fatigue as a symptom. Doctors will carry out blood tests to eliminate the usual causes of fatigue.
  • Different kinds of sleep disorders like insomnia, restless leg syndrome, or obstructive sleep apnea can prevent you from getting sufficient rest leading to fatigue. Hence, doctors will check your sleep patterns and habits.
  • Varied mental and psychological problems like bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety can also cause fatigue. Doctors will therefore test for the presence of any mental health issues.

Diagnostic criteria:In order for an individual to be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, he/she has to experience chronic and inexplicable fatigue for at least 6 months, as well as a minimum of any 4 symptoms listed above in the symptoms section.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – Test

The doctor may ask you the following question to find out if you are suffering from CFS –

  1. Do you have trouble concentrating?
  2. Do you get muscle pain?
  3. Do you feel that you are tired for almost a day, after some physical activity?
  4. Do you feel that you do not get enough sleep?
  5. Do you have a sore throat?
  6. Do you think that you are not able to remember things?
  7. Do you get frequent headaches?
  8. Do you experience soreness or pain in lymph nodes, especially at the underarms and neck?
  9. Do you experience pain in joints, at more than just one place?

Treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The aim of treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome is to ease the varied symptoms. It can be achieved via medications, physical therapy, and self-care measures.


  • Doctors may prescribe sleeping pills if affected individuals are unable to get adequate rest despite taking precautions like avoiding coffee.
  • Many patients of chronic fatigue syndrome also suffer from depression. Hence antidepressants are prescribed by doctors. Certain antidepressants also help alleviate pain and enhance sleep.

Physical therapy: Physical therapy is generally combined with psychological counselling.

  • Patients will work out with a physical therapist who helps chalk out the best types of exercises for alleviation of chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms. Patients with an inactive lifestyle are generally asked to engage in stretching and motion exercises. The intensity of such exercises is slowly increased with the gradual improvement in the symptoms.
  • Talking to a counsellor will help change the outlook of patients. Affected people will be able to come up with plans that can help overcome the restrictions imposed by chronic fatigue syndrome.

Self-care Measures

  • Patients can take steps to improve their sleeping habits by strictly following a nighttime sleeping schedule. Nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol should be avoided. Daytime naps need to be minimized.
  • It is important to limit or avoid emotional stress as well as overexertion. Set aside some time to relax each day. Learn to say no without feeling any guilt.
  • Pace your activities through the day. Avoid doing too little or too much, irrespective of whether you have good days or bad days
  • Joining a chronic fatigue syndrome support group is also helpful. Patients can get to meet others with similar problems. You can also exchange views on how to deal with the varied associated problems and restrictions.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – Diet and Foods to Avoid

Eat a balanced diet which includes grains, fruits, vegetables, low fat milk, fish, poultry and lean meats. There are certain foods that can increase the symptoms of CFS. To find out what these are, try eliminating some of the suspect-foods from your diet. Introduce them one at a time with a gap of some days in between to find out which food causes the problem. Usually refined sugar, high calorie foods and the ones that are high in saturated fats can increase the risk of chronic fatigue syndrome. Make sure you avoid smoking, drinking alcohol, too much salt and caffeine from your diet.


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