Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by excessive tiredness that lasts for more than 6 months, does not have an identifiable cause, gets worse after physical or mental activities, and does not improve even after resting. In addition to fatigue, other symptoms may arise, such as muscle pain, difficulty concentrating, and headaches.

This condition does not have an established cause, and so diagnosis usually involves several exams to verify if there's any hormonal imbalance or other type of disease that could be causing extreme fatigue.

Treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome is aimed to improve symptoms, and can include psychotherapy sessions, as well as regular physical activity, to promote well-being.  

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Main symptoms

The main symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome is excessive tiredness that lasts more than 6 months and does not get better after resting or relaxing. It is common for the person to wake up feeling tired and to complain about being tired the rest of day.

In addition to fatigue, other symptoms may arise, such as:

  • Persistent muscle aches;
  • Joint pain;
  • Frequent headaches;
  • Restless sleep;
  • Memory loss and difficulty concentrating;
  • Irritability;
  • Depression;
  • Throat ache;
  • Anxiety;
  • Weight variations;
  • Chest pain;
  • Dry mouth.

As the symptoms are very unspecific, the doctor may prescribe a series of exams to try and identify the cause of the fatigue. He may prescribe blood tests, especially those that assess hormone levels to check if the fatigue is due to any hormonal imbalance.

What causes chronic fatigue syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome does not have a well defined cause. However, it is speculated that this syndrome might be related to genetics and environmental factors, which can cause small changes in the immune system. Some of those factors include: sedentary lifestyle, depression, anemia, hypoglycemia, recurrent infections, and auto-immune diseases.

This type of syndrome is also more common in women between the ages of 40 and 50, which can lead people to confuse chronic fatigue syndrome with menopause, as they can have very similar symptoms, such as fatigue or irritability.  

Treatment options

There is no type of specific treatment capable of curing chronic fatigue syndrome. Therefore, treatment s aimed at decreasing symptoms and increasing a person's abilities for daily tasks. The doctor may prescribe:

  • Antidepressants, such as fluoxetine or sertraline, specially if the person is suffering from depression due to the syndrome;
  • Sleep medication, such as melatonin, to help relax and sleep better;
  • Psychotherapy, to help minimize social isolation and fight negative thoughts;
  • Regular physical activity, to release endorphins into the bloodstream, increasing well-being and decreasing muscle pain;

In addition, other natural treatments may also be advised, such as acupuncture, meditation, stretches, yoga, or relaxation techniques.