Understanding chronic fatigue syndrome

If extreme exhaustion, constant overwhelming fatigue and brain fog make it impossible for you to function, it could be CFS


Are you constantly exhausted no matter much sleep you get? Do you struggle to stay awake past your lunch hour? Is your energy level so low that getting off the couch—even for an activity you enjoy—sounds like just too much effort?

You may have chronic fatigue syndrome.

What is chronic fatigue syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS, is a long-term illness that affects both your physical and mental health. It is a difficult disease to diagnose and manage. Its cause is unknown. This complicated disorder is much more serious than needing an occasional nap. It is overwhelming tiredness that affects your life in an extreme way.

CFS is:

  • Extreme exhaustion that prevents you from participating in your usual activities for more than six months
  • Not relieved by rest or sleep
  • Not caused by strenuous activity or effort

When you have CFS, it can affect every aspect of your daily life as you struggle to complete your day with no energy and little stamina.  

Symptoms of CFS include:

  • Severe, constant fatigue
  • Poor concentration and “brain fog”
  • Joint or muscle pain with no cause
  • Sleep disorders including chronic insomnia

Symptoms of CFS vary widely and may change as your condition progresses. The severity of your symptoms and how well past efforts to manage them have succeeded provide invaluable insights into your condition and potential treatments.

Many of the symptoms of CFS may also be signs of other common, more treatable conditions. Your doctor can help you determine what your symptoms mean and offer treatment options to bring you some relief.

Who gets chronic fatigue syndrome?

CFS can affect anyone, regardless of age or gender, but it is more common in:

  • People between the ages of 40 and 60 years old
  • Women
  • People with a family history of CFS
  • Caucasians

Learn more about the profiles of people who are likely to have CFS.

How is chronic fatigue syndrome diagnosed?

There is not a single test that is used to diagnose CFS. Your doctor performs an extensive examination that details the history and severity of your symptoms and any past treatments.

Tests based on your specific symptoms are conducted to rule out any illnesses that could be causing your extreme fatigue. You may be referred to a neurologist to provide further insight into your condition.

How is chronic fatigue syndrome treated?

There is currently no cure for CFS but treatment can help bring relief from your symptoms. Your doctor will work with you to develop a plan of action that improves your quality of life and increases your stamina and energy level.

Treatment may include:

  • Sleep management techniques
  • Medication for anxiety, depression or pain
  • Healthy diet and nutritional supplements
  • Professional counseling to help deal with the emotional aspects of CFS
  • Lifestyle changes, like mindfulness and meditation, to minimize stress and exertion

Find a doctor

CFS leaves you too exhausted to participate fully in your daily activities. The compassionate, professional team of experts at Swedish helps you develop a plan that can help you get your life back. Find a doctor you can trust in our provider directory.

Related resources

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About the Author

Our philosophy for well being is looking at the holistic human experience. As such, the Swedish Wellness & Lifestyle Team is committed to shining a light on health-related topics that help you live your healthiest life. From nutrition to mindfulness to annual screenings, our team offers clinically-backed advice and tips to help you and your loved ones live life to the fullest.

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