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Day after day, you find yourself struggling to overcome exhaustion, find energy, maintain a steady effort at work, maybe even to stay awake. If you can relate, then you may be battling what’s known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
What exactly is CFS? It’s debilitating disorder involving unyielding fatigue that doesn’t improve even with bed rest, and that can be exacerbated by physical activity or mental tasks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that symptoms can affect “several body systems and may include weakness, muscle pain, impaired memory and/or mental concentration, and insomnia.”
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What Causes Chronic Fatigue Symptoms?
Chronic fatigue syndrome typically can’t be explained away by such factors as a sleepless night, a stretch at work where you’re “burning the midnight oil,” or a marathon softball game, round of golf, or swimming session. Fatigue symptoms can change from day to day, and are known to go into remission for a stretch before a relapse brings them on again. CFS can affect your work as well as your social life, and you can’t shake it even with extra rest.
If you aren’t sure why you’re feeling consistently fatigued, don’t wait too long before consulting your physician. There are ways to overcome the condition (as we discuss in “Chronic Fatigue Treatment”) once you take the first step.
Most Common Chronic Fatigue Symptoms
How do you know when to seek a doctor’s diagnosis? Review the official list of nine chronic fatigue symptoms, including the one forwhich the condition is named:
1. Fatigue: extreme exhaustion after physical activity or mental exertion.
2. Loss of memory or concentration, or “brain fog,” as some call it.
3. Sore throat, one that seems to linger.
4. Tender, enlarged lymph nodes in the neck or armpits.
5. Muscle pain, especially if it’s pain you can’t explain.
6. Joint pain affecting several joints, and that moves from one joint to another without redness or some swelling.
7. Headaches of a new type, pattern, or severity, ones that seem different from those you’ve experienced in the past.
8. Sleep issues—insomnia and or other disorders that prevent you from feeling refreshed in the morning.
9. Extreme exhaustion that lasts more than 24 hours after physical exercise or mental concentration.
Chronic Fatigue Symptoms: Risks and Causes
Once you’ve set up a consultation with your healthcare provider, you should be prepared with a list of your signs and symptoms (it’s best to write them down), health issues, details of any major changes that might be causing stress, and any questions you may have (again, write them down in advance).
In turn, you can expect your physician to ask about when your fatigue symptoms started, your sleep pattern, your ability to focus or concentrate, and whether you’ve been feeling depressed, anxious, or increasingly stressed.
While the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome is a mystery, there are all kinds of theories that tie it to various diseases, immune system disorders, stress, mental exhaustion, trauma, hormonal imbalances, or viral infections, among other afflictions. Despite aggressive research into these potential causes of CFS, scientists have been unable to connect it to a single one. It may be, experts say, that a combination of these factors can cause chronic fatigue symptoms.
Who’s at risk of chronic fatigue syndrome? It can occur at any age but is most commonly tied to people in their 40s and 50s. Women are diagnosed with CFS more often than men. And anyone who regularly tries to manage stress—and finds it to be an exhausting challenge—is more at risk.
Originally posted in July 2016 and updated.