10+ Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Is Your Fatigue Actually a Disease?

A huge number of people visit the doctor for help with their fatigue. It's imperative to find out if your tiredness is actually chronic fatigue syndrome.

chronic fatigue syndrome

In order to be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, a patient must satisfy two criteria.

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If you suffer from fatigue, you are not alone. Estimates of how common it truly is vary widely, but overall, about 20% of all patients complain of fatigue, and 5% to 10% of patients presenting to their primary care provider list fatigue as their number one complaint.[1] Fatigue and chronic fatigue are symptoms rather than illnesses in and of themselves. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), on the other hand, is an illness.  Determining if you are experiencing “normal” fatigue or if you’re suffering from more serious Chronic Fatigue Syndrome symptoms is the first step towards your recovery.  Here’s how to differentiate between fatigue, chronic fatigue, and CFS:

Fatigue- If you have been feeling much more tired and worn out than usual, and have a lower capacity for physical or mental work than you usually do, you have fatigue. Fatigue is a normal, protective mechanism in healthy individuals. It is usually linked to a single cause, and is often relieved by rest or lifestyle changes (such as diet, exercise, stress management).

Chronic Fatigue- Although there is no agreed-upon definition of chronic fatigue, it is sometimes defined as severe fatigue of at least 6 months’ duration which is not helped by rest and interferes with relationships, work, or other activities. Chronic fatigue is abnormal and disrupts healthy physical and mental function.

The majority of people visiting their primary care provider who have been suffering with fatigue for more than six months do not meet criteria for CFS, but still have fatigue bad enough to significantly impact their health. In fact, studies have shown that even if you don’t meet the strict definition of CFS you are frequently just as ill and
impaired.[2,3] In other words, both chronic fatigue and CFS can be debilitating and with either of them you may experience significant overall levels of “sickness” and impairment.[4]

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms- CFS is characterized by unexplained fatigue that lasts for at least 6 months accompanied by symptoms including headaches, unrefreshing sleep, muscle pain and difficulties with brain functions such as memory and concentration.

CDC Definition of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

In order to be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, a patient must satisfy two criteria:

1. Have severe chronic fatigue for at least six months or longer with other known medical conditions (whose manifestation includes fatigue) excluded by clinical diagnosis; and

2. Concurrently have four or more of the following symptoms:

  • fatigue following physical exertion
  • impaired memory or concentration
  • unrefreshing sleep
  • muscle pain
  • multi-joint pain without redness or swelling
  • tender cervical or axillary lymph nodes
  • sore throat
  • headache

The symptoms must have persisted or recurred during six or more consecutive months of illness and must not have predated the fatigue.[5]

To discover if you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome symptoms, print out this article and circle the descriptions below that apply to you.  Take this list to a qualified integrative physician to sort through the various fatigue causes and develop a chronic fatigue syndrome treatment plan to help you regain your health and vitality.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Symptoms

  • Low vitality
  • Persistent exhaustion or excessive tiredness
  • Fatigue provoked by activity with delayed recovery
  • Mental exhaustion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impaired memory
  • Spacey sensation
  • Unrefreshing /nonrestorative rest and sleep
  • Reduced capacity for occupational, educational, social or personal activities
  • Reduced motivation
  • Reduced social functioning
  • Poor muscle endurance
  • Subjective weakness
  • Emotional symptoms like anxiety, depression, isolation, mood swings, overreaction, self-doubt
  • Persistent flu-like symptoms
  • Sore throat
  • Tender lymph nodes
  • Balance problems
  • Numbness/tingling
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Palpitations
  • Low-grade fevers
  • Night sweats
  • Short respiration
  • Orthostatic intolerance,  the inability to tolerate sustained upright activity
  • Worsening allergies
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Bodily pain
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Digestive disturbance
  • Chest pain

[1] Nijrolder I, van der Windt D, et al. Diagnoses during follow-up of patients presenting with fatigue in primary care. CMAJ. 2009 Nov10;181(10):683-7.

[2] Darbishire L, Ridsdale L, Seed PT. Distinguishing patients with chronic fatigue from those with chronic fatigue syndrome: a diagnostic study in UK primary care. Br J Gen Pract. 2003 Jun;53(491):441-5.

[3] Jones JF, Lin JM, et al. An evaluation of exclusionary medical/psychiatric conditions in the definition of chronic fatigue syndrome. BMC Med. 2009 Oct 12;7:57.

[4] Jones JF, Lin JM, et al. An evaluation of exclusionary medical/psychiatric conditions in the definition of chronic fatigue syndrome. BMC Med. 2009 Oct 12;7:57.

[5] http://www.cdc.gov/cfs/case-definition/1994.html

Originally published in 2012, this blog has been updated.

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Kathleen Jade, ND

Dr. Kathleen Jade is a naturopathic physician and served for many years as the Medical Director and Editor-In-Chief of Natural Health Advisory Institute. She has been licensed as a primary … Read More

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