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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: symptoms, causes, treatments and more

Everything you need to know about the illness

Chronic fatigue, or ME, is commonly hard to diagnose and even harder to treat. Actress Martine McCutcheon recently shed light on the illness, discussing the difficulties she faced as a result of the disease on an episode of Loose Women.

But what exactly is chronic fatigue? How does it affect people? And how do you know if you are suffering from it?

Perhaps you are worried about a family member, or you’ve heard a lot about it but aren’t quite sure what’s true.

Take a look at our complete guide on the illness, and how you can find help to deal with it.

What is chronic fatigue

According to the NHS website, Chronic fatigue is a severe illness that causes your body to feel in a constant state of exhaustion. People suffering with chronic fatigue will be hugely impacted in their day-to-day lives because no matter how much they sleep, or rest, the symptoms of “persistent fatigue” remain.

Commonly it develops in people aged between 20 and 40, but it may also present itself in teenagers aged 13 – 15. There are also more female than male sufferers, for which the reason is not known.

Chronic fatigue is a very serious illness, and although the symptoms can be relieved, and it can improve over time – particularly for younger people – it is very possible that you will have it for the rest of your life and it can cause various other illnesses and disabilities.

Is chronic fatigue the same as ME?

According to chronic fatigue is the name commonly used by doctors, whereas ME, which stands for myalgic encephalomyelitis, is preferred by those suffering with the condition.

Some believe that they are two different illnesses, where others believe they are the same but with 'varied symptoms'. Therefore the umbrella term CFS is used.

What are the signs and symptoms of chronic fatigue?

It can show itself in various ways. The 12 most common symptoms are:

  • Muscular and joint pain

  • Severe headaches

-Poor short-term memory and concentration

-Difficulty organising thoughts “brain fog”

-Painful lymph nodes

-Stomach pain

-Bowel irritation, such as bloating, constipation, diarrheoa, and nausea

-Sore throat

-Insomnia and trouble sleeping

-Sensitivity to light, noise, alcohol and certain foods

-Psychological issues – depression, irritability and panic attacks

-Dizziness, excess sweating, balance problems, uncontrollable body temp

What causes chronic fatigue?

Doctors are yet to find exactly what causes the syndrome but theories on the NHS website include:

-Problems with the immune system

-A hormone imbalance

-Psychiatric problems


-Traumatic events

Is there a chronic fatigue syndrome test?

Unfortunately there isn’t a test that will give you a clear cut answer about whether or not you have chronic fatigue. However, there are signs and symptoms that doctors are aware of, and judging by their severity and how long you have been suffering, the doctor can then diagnose.

How is chronic fatigue diagnosed

According to the National Institute for Health Care Excellence, a medical professional will see fit to diagnose you if:

-It has not been a lifelong problem (i.e. you can pinpoint when it started)

-Physical activity causes you to feel extremely fatigued

-What you are physically capable of is severely reduced

-It appears to be either persistent or recurrent

If you suffer with any of the above, plus at least two of the symptoms mentioned above, then you should speak with your doctor to discuss the possibility that you are suffering from chronic fatigue.

How to beat chronic fatigue

Sadly there is no magic cure for chronic fatigue, but although there is currently no sure-fire way to eliminate the illness, there are many ways to relieve the symptoms.

Over time suffers can learn how to manage their illness and live their lives to the full. There are a range of treatments available, covering everything from exercise therapy, to medication, to cognitive behavioural therapy.

What chronic fatigue treatment is available?

Professionals may suggest any of the following in order to manage and control the symptoms of someone suffering with chronic fatigue:

Cognitive behavioural therapy - this allows sufferers to come to terms with their illness

Graded exercise therapy - this is a specialist programme that helps the sufferer to gradually increase how much physical exercise they can do

Activity management - this could consist of keeping a diary to document your activity and rest, in order to set targets and goals for improvement

Medication - painkillers and antidepressants may be made available to those with chronic fatigue, but there are no pharmaceutical drugs to specifically combat the illness

Is there a chronic fatigue syndrome diet I should follow?

The NHS website recommends avoiding alcohol, caffeine, sugar and sweeteners. It also suggests eating small, regular meals and warns not to sleep or nap excessively.

Where can I find help for chronic fatigue?

If you think you could be suffering from chronic fatigue, you could contact your local GP and alert them of your symptoms.

You could also visit the following websites for more information:

NHS - Chronic Fatigue

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