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What is chronic fatigue syndrome?

What is chronic fatigue syndrome? — Chronic fatigue syndrome is a disorder that makes you feel very tired all the time. Sometimes the disorder is so bad that it makes it hard for you do your normal activities.

Living with chronic fatigue syndrome can be tough because most people, even many doctors, don’t really understand the condition. Plus, there aren’t a lot of treatment options.

What are the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome? — The most common symptom is feeling tired all or most of the time. People who get the disorder usually begin to feel tired suddenly, right after they recover from a cold or an infection called “mono.” Even though they are over their cold or mono symptoms, they still feel very tired. Plus, being active makes them feel even more tired.

Besides feeling tired, people with chronic fatigue syndrome have other symptoms, such as:

  • Sore throat
  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Pain all over
  • Headaches
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Tender lymph nodes (glands) in the neck or armpits

Chronic fatigue syndrome is hard to deal with, because people who get it were usually active before. They did not tend to worry about being sick. Then, all of sudden, they feel tired and can’t figure out what is wrong with them. Even the doctor often can’t find a cause for the symptoms. And to make matters worse, other people sometimes think their symptoms are “all in their head.” This can make people with chronic fatigue syndrome feel angry, helpless, and sad.

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Should I see a doctor or nurse? — Yes. If you suddenly feel tired all the time, you should see a doctor or nurse. Lots of health problems can cause tiredness. It’s important to get checked out to find out what might be causing the problem.

Is there a test for chronic fatigue syndrome? — No, there is no test. To diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome, doctors and nurses have to go by symptoms. Often they look for other causes of the symptoms first. If they can find no other causes of the symptoms, they consider chronic fatigue syndrome.

To be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, you must feel tired all the time for no reason, and you must have some of the other symptoms listed above.

How is chronic fatigue syndrome treated? — There is no cure for chronic fatigue syndrome, but there are treatments than can help with the symptoms.

The most effective treatments seem to be cognitive behavioral therapy and graded exercise.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy — Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of “talk” therapy. During CBT you talk with a psychologist or counselor about the things you think and do. Then he or she helps you change how you see your situation and how you react to your situation. This teaches you how to cope better with your condition.
  • Graded exercise — Exercise sometimes makes chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms worse. But not exercising at all can also make symptoms worse. That’s why experts recommend that people with chronic fatigue syndrome do gentle exercises. As they get used to that, they can slowly increase the amount of exercise they do. Sometimes it helps to work with a trainer who understands chronic fatigue syndrome.
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Researchers have also checked whether different medicines, supplements, and special diets help with chronic fatigue syndrome. So far, none of these approaches has proven helpful.

Can antibiotics help me? — Probably not. Your doctor might offer you antibiotics, especially if you test positive for Lyme disease. But antibiotics do not work on chronic fatigue syndrome. And testing positive for Lyme does not mean that your symptoms are caused by Lyme disease. Plus, taking antibiotics for a long time when you do not need them can cause health problems.

What will my life be like? — If you have chronic fatigue syndrome, try to remember that you have a real medical condition. You are not imagining your symptoms, and your problem is not “made up.” Scientists have not yet figured out how to explain or cure chronic fatigue syndrome, but they do know that it is real.

The most important thing you can do to deal with your condition is to find a doctor or nurse whom you trust and like and who believes that your condition is real. Only that way can the 2 of you work together to figure out how best to deal with your symptoms.

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Many people with chronic fatigue syndrome also have depression. If you are depressed, get treated for your depression. Doing so can make your chronic fatigue syndrome easier to handle.