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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complex disorder of the human body. There is no blood test or brain scan that can be used to diagnose CFS so diagnosis is based on the presence of persistent mental and physical fatigue that is very different to everyday tiredness (such as ‘after a day’s work’). It is not due to on-going exertion or another medical condition and is not relieved by rest. The onset of symptoms can be fairly sudden (over a few days or so), or more gradual. It may not have been lifelong but might have started at a point in time and may limit one’s activities compared with what one were used to. In addition to fatigue, one or more of the following symptoms are common (but most people do not have them all). In some people, one of the following symptoms is more dominant than the fatigue and is the main symptom:

  • Mental (‘cognitive’) difficulties such as poor concentration

  • Poor short-term memory

  • Reduced attention span

  • Difficulty to plan or organise thoughts

  • Difficulty ‘finding the right words’ to say

  • Feeling disorientated

  • Sleeping difficulties, e.g. early waking, being unable to sleep, too much sleep, disrupted sleep/wake patterns

  • Muscle and/or joint pain and/or weakness

  • Headaches

  • Recurring sore throat, often with tenderness of the nearby lymph glands

  • Sensitivity to light, sounds and smells

  • Dizziness

  • Digestive disturbance and nausea

  • Depression

  • Cardiac problems and palpitations

  • Respiratory problems

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is also referred to as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome (PVFS), Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS).

How common is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

It is estimated that around 250,000 people in the UK suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome making the problem relatively rare. It usually develops between the ages 20- 45 years or between 13-15 years in adolescents and is more common in women than men.

What is the treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

In the absence of a conclusive ‘cure’ for CFS, treatment tends to focus on managing the condition and reducing the symptom levels, anguish and helplessness that ensue from this condition. The effectiveness of treatments depends on how CFS affects the individual. NICE recommends a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) programme consisting of the following elements as the treatment of choice for CFS:

  • Restructuring thoughts and behaviours that prevent improvement

  • Increasing sense of control

  • Graded exercise to increase stamina

  • Activity management to increase activity in a manageable way

  • Lifestyle advise to optimise physical health and well being


There is now a strong evidence base for using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for CFS.

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