Getting the Most from Primary Care

Understanding Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disorder that causes sufferers to experience extreme tiredness for no apparent reason. Physical activity can make you feel more tired, but the fatigue is present even after periods of rest. It's not understood why some people develop this condition, but there are a number of theories. It's thought that genetics may play a role and that viral infections and hormonal imbalances may trigger the condition in those who are genetically susceptible. Difficulty managing stress may also be a contributing factor in the development of CFS. Those with CFS are at risk of experiencing social isolation and a decline in mental health due to the limitations the condition places on their lifestyle. Here's an overview of the symptoms and the diagnosis and treatment approach for CFS:


In addition to unexplained tiredness, those with CFS may experience headaches, poor concentration, muscle and joint pain and a persistent sore throat. The lymph nodes in the neck may also become enlarged, and you may develop problems sleeping, which only exacerbates the fatigue further.

Diagnosis And Treatment Approach

CFS can be difficult to diagnose, and your GP will tend to focus on ruling out other conditions that cause symptoms similar to CFS, such as hypothyroidism and anaemia. In addition to taking details of your symptoms and conducting a physical exam, your GP will collect blood and urine samples to check for raised inflammatory markers, organ function issues and hormone imbalances. They may also ask you to keep an activity and symptom diary to establish whether there's a pattern associated with the fatigue. You may also be referred to a sleep clinic to undergo a sleep study, which will determine if your tiredness is being caused by an undiagnosed condition you are unaware of, such as obstructive sleep apnoea.

Treatment for CFS focusses on improving symptoms and quality of life. It's common for those with CFS to be referred to a counsellor for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This form of talking therapy can help you feel more in control of your life and help you to work out some ways you can still experience enjoyment and quality of life outside of the limitations CFS places on you. Some patients also find it beneficial to work on a gentle exercise program with a physiotherapist, which tends to focus on stretching to keep muscles and joints healthy. Additionally, if you're experiencing depression as a result of having CFS, you may be prescribed antidepressants.

If you have symptoms associated with CFS, schedule an appointment with your GP and take the first step towards receiving a diagnosis and getting the support you need.