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Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a chronic, debilitating disorder. It affects your brain and multiple parts of your body. It causes extreme fatigue and is not relieved by bed rest. Physical or mental fatigue often makes the condition worse. Symptoms last at least six months and are severe enough to interfere with daily activities.

There is no specific lab test or clinical sign for CFS. No one knows exactly how many people are affected by this illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, that as many as 500,000 people in the United States have a CFS-like condition.

No one knows what causes CFS. For more than a century, doctors have reported seeing illnesses similar to it. In the 1860s, Dr. George Beard named the syndrome neurasthenia. He thought it was a nervous disorder with weakness and fatigue. Experiments in men supported his idea that the brain is somehow involved in CFS.

Health experts have suggested some explanations for this baffling illness, including:

  • Various viruses (such as, Epstein-Barr virus, enteroviruses, parvovirus B19)
  • Malfunction of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis
  • Emotional stress
  • Iron-poor blood (anemia)
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Environmental allergy or toxins
  • Body-wide yeast infection (candidiasis)

Recovery time varies among individuals with CFS. You may recover to the point where you can resume work and other activities. You may continue to experience various or periodic CFS symptoms. CFS typically follows a cyclical course. It alternates between periods of illness and relative well-being. You may also recover completely with time.

What are the risk factors for chronic fatigue syndrome?What are the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome?How is chronic fatigue syndrome diagnosed?What are the treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome?Are there screening tests for chronic fatigue syndrome?How can I reduce my risk of chronic fatigue syndrome?What questions should I ask my doctor?What is it like to live with chronic fatigue syndrome?Where can I get more information about chronic fatigue syndrome?

Revision Information

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. American Academy of Family Physicians Familydoctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/chronic-fatigue-syndrome.html. Updated November 2010. Accessed December 28, 2012.

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/cfs/index.html. Updated May 16, 2012. Accessed December 28, 2012.

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated November 10, 2012. Accessed December 28, 2012.

  • Devanur LD, Kerr JR. Chronic fatigue syndrome. J Clin Virol. 2006;37:139-150.

  • Prins JB, van der Meer JW, et al. Chronic fatigue syndrome. Lancet. 2006;367:346-355.