When is it chronic fatigue syndrome?


When is feeling tired and rundown a sign of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)? Learn the symptoms of this condition so you know when it’s time to see your doctor. While there isn’t a cure for CFS, there are different treatment approaches that can help you feel better.

What are the symptoms of chronic fatigue?

Severe fatigue that lasts six months or longer, and doesn’t have an underlying cause, is one of the main signs of CFS. Other common symptoms include:

  • Exhaustion that lasts for more than 24 hours after physical or mental activity
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain that doesn’t occur with swelling
  • Headaches that are new in intensity or frequency
  • Dizziness or fainting after standing
  • Problems remembering and concentrating
  • A sore throat that doesn’t go away or recurs
  • Trouble sleeping or not feeling rested upon awakening
  • Tender lymph nodes under the arms or in the neck

Less common symptoms may include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Low-grade fever
  • Night sweats
  • Numbness in the hands, feet or face
  • Allergies to food, drugs or chemicals

What are causes and risk factors for CFS?

While the causes of CFS are unknown, some patients report developing the condition after a viral infection. Women are two to four times more likely to develop CFS than men. The condition, which affects roughly 1 million Americans, is most commonly diagnosed in women who are 40 to 50 years old.

Where can I get help?

If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of CFS, call your doctor. The condition is sometimes difficult to diagnose because your physician needs to rule out other medical conditions that may be causing fatigue and other symptoms.

While there is no cure for CFS, your doctor can work closely with you to develop a treatment plan that helps to alleviate your symptoms. Some of the approaches that may help you find relief include:

  • Pain management, including medications and physical therapy
  • An exercise plan and healthy diet
  • Good sleep habits, such as avoiding caffeine before bedtime and following a regular sleep schedule
  • Counseling through a support group or one-on-one therapy sessions
  • Memory aids such as organizers or alarms on mobile phones
  • Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications to address any depression or anxiety that may arise with having a chronic condition. Antidepressants can also help with sleep.
  • Medications to help with concentration — these are the same drugs used to treat ADHD and are prescribed with caution
  • Complementary therapies such as massage and acupuncture

A doctor at one of UCLA Health’s primary care practices can help manage your symptoms and refer you to any specialists you may need to address your symptoms and concerns. The UCLA Center for East-West Medicine also treats patients with CFS with a combination of traditional and complementary approaches.

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