A person with CFS feels completely worn-out and overtired. This extreme tiredness makes it hard to do the daily tasks that most of us do without thinking — like dressing, bathing, or eating. Sleep or rest does not make the tiredness go away. It can be made worse by moving, exercising, or even thinking.
CFS can happen over time or come on suddenly. People who get CFS over time get more and more tired over weeks or months. People who get CFS suddenly feel fine one day and then feel extremely tired the next. A person with CFS may have muscle pain, trouble focusing, or insomnia (not being able to sleep). The extreme tiredness may come and go. In some cases the extreme tiredness never goes away. The extreme tiredness must go on for at least 6 months before a diagnosis of CFS can be made.
CFS is sometimes called chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS). It is also sometimes called myalgic encephalomyelitis (mye-AL-jik en-SEFF-ah-loh-mye-LYE-tiss), or ME.
No one knows for sure what causes CFS. Many people with CFS say it started after an infection, such as a cold or stomach bug. It also can follow infection with the Epstein-Barr virus. This is the same virus that causes infectious mononucleosis (sometimes called "mono"). Some people with CFS say it started after a time of great stress, such as the loss of a loved one or major surgery.
It can be hard to figure out if a person has CFS because extreme tiredness is a common symptom of many illnesses. Also, some medical treatments, such as chemotherapy, can cause extreme tiredness.
Right now, there is no cure for CFS. But there are things you can do to feel better...
Some people say their CFS symptoms get better with complementary or alternative treatments, such as massage, acupuncture, chiropractic care, yoga, stretching, or self-hypnosis. Keep in mind that many alternative treatments, dietary supplements, and herbal remedies claim to cure CFS, but they might do more harm than good. Talk to your doctor before seeing someone else for treatment or before trying alternative therapies.
Also, keep in mind that your doctor may need to learn more about CFS to better help you. If you feel your doctor doesn't know a lot about CFS or has doubts about it being a "real" illness, see another doctor for a second opinion. Contact a local university medical school or research center for help finding a doctor who treats people with CFS.