Do you experience extreme fatigue that does not seem to improve even with rest? Has your doctor been unable to determine an underlying medical cause? If so, you may have a condition called chronic fatigue syndrome. 

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a poorly understood condition. It can go by several different names, such as myalgic encephalomyelitis or systemic exertion intolerance disease. There is no cure, and medical researchers are not entirely sure what causes it. They theorize that hormonal imbalances, immune system problems or viral infections may be possible causes. It may also be multifactorial, meaning that two or more agents have to come into play to cause the condition. 

Because excessive fatigue can be a symptom of any number of diseases, your doctor may have difficulty diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome. It may be necessary to perform extensive testing to rule out conditions that can produce similar symptoms. These may include heart and lung impairments, sleep disorders and other medical problems. Mental health disorders can also cause fatigue. However, to further complicate the matter, chronic fatigue syndrome often occurs alongside depression. 

One of the most notable characteristics of CFS is a hypersensitivity to normal activities or exercise that results in excess fatigue. However, symptoms of CFS go beyond mere tiredness. They can also include the following: 

  • Headaches 
  • Loss of memory or concentration 
  • Unexplained joint/muscle pain 
  • Sore throat 
  • Enlarged lymph nodes 

It is not only physical exertion that can provoke CFS symptoms. Mental activity can also result in the characteristic extreme exhaustion that lasts at least 24 hours, as well as the other signs. 

CFS may affect your lifestyle in negative or unwanted ways. You may find yourself needing to take time off from work more often. Your symptoms may isolate you from friends and family. However, there is help available in the form of support groups with people who have experienced the same thing. Medications may work to relieve pain and improve sleep quality. Some see improvement with a two-pronged therapy approach that combines gentle exercise with cognitive training to help you work around your limitations.