Sorting Out Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms

More than a million adults in the U.S. are dealing with a condition of lethargy known as chronic fatigue syndrome. Symptoms may sound familiar—from sore throat to a fatigued feeling even after sleeping.

chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms

Can't shake that sore throat? If it's accompanied by multiple other symptoms listed here, consider the possibility that it could be a chronic fatigue syndrome symptom.

© Nikola Hristovski |

Among the potential causes of extreme fatigue is a condition called chronic fatigue syndrome. Symptoms are affecting more of us than you might imagine. More than 1 million adults in the United States suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among adults, women are more likely to develop chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms than men. CFS is also known to strike teenagers and younger children.

The definition for CFS, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “A debilitating and complex disorder characterized by profound fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity.”

What causes chronic fatigue symptoms? The exact answer is unknown, and there’s actually no specific test for diagnosis. Researchers, however, have discovered in people with CFS a number of commonalities—abnormalities in the brain, peripheral nervous system, and immune system as well as a lower metabolism.

10 Common Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms

According to the CDC, various symptoms characterize chronic fatigue, and they affect several body systems. The overriding symptom: severe and debilitating fatigue that may last for six months or more and persist even with rest. If that describes you, plus you have four of the following symptoms for a prolonged period, you may be dealing with CFS:

  1. Brain fog (feeling mentally foggy)
  2. Extreme exhaustion after physical activity or mental exertion
  3. Headaches that are different from those you’ve experienced in the past
  4. Impaired memory and/or mental concentration
  5. Insomnia and related sleep problems
  6. Joint pain (affecting several joints)
  7. Muscle pain
  8. Sore throat
  9. Tender lymph nodes in the neck
  10. Tender lymph nodes in the armpits

Other chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms may include allergies or sensitivities to foods, odors, chemicals, medications, or even noise; chills and night sweats; difficulty maintaining an upright position (dizziness, balance problems, fainting); or irritable bowel. CFS patients also have reported chills and night sweats; depression and/or anxiety with mood swings; irritability; panic attacks; and visual disturbances, among them blurring, eye pain, and sensitivity to light).

While some people can remain fairly active in their daily lives even with CFS, most patients find their work, school, and family activities severely challenged for long periods. According to the CDC, studies have shown that chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms can be as “disabling as multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, end-stage renal disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and similar chronic conditions.”

Diagnosing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Making diagnosis difficult is the fact that CFS can come and go in somewhat cyclical patterns. A patient may overcome CFS and enjoy periods of normalcy and even have symptoms go into complete remission—and then regress and fall back into periods where severe symptoms return.

Further, your healthcare provider typically can diagnosis CFS only if you don’t have another active condition that may be coming into play, whether it’s anemia, cancer, fibromyalgia, or MS or such issues as depression, drug or alcohol abuse, or dementia.

Treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms is tricky; there is no cure, and no prescriptions drugs have been developed to correct CFS. As a result, health care providers typically set out to help you manage the condition and eliminate or lessen symptoms.

For related reading, please visit “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Treatment: Hope Lies Ahead.”

This article was originally published in 2016 and is regularly updated.

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Larry Canale

Larry Canale has been editorial director or editor-in-chief of a number of launches in the areas of consumer magazines, newsletters, and websites for Belvoir Media Group. Since early 2019, he … Read More

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