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CFS - Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
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Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)

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Viral Illnesses

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complicated disorder characterized by profound fatigue that doesn't improve with bed rest and may worsen with physical or mental activity. Of all chronic illnesses, CFS is one of the most mysterious. Unlike infections, it has no clear cause. Unlike conditions such as diabetes or anemia, there's essentially nothing to measure. And unlike conditions such as heart disease, there are relatively few treatment options.


Doctors don't know the cause of CFS. Several possible causes have been proposed, including:

  • Iron deficiency anemia

  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)

  • Allergies to environmental elements

  • Bodywide infections such as mononucleosis

  • Dysfunction in the immune system

  • Changes in the levels of hormones produced in the hypothalamus, pituitary glands or adrenal glands

  • Mild, chronic low blood pressure (hypotension)

The cause of CFS may be an inflammation of the pathways of the nervous system as a response to an autoimmune process, but with nothing measurable in the blood like in other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. CFS may also occur when a viral illness is complicated by a dysfunctional immune system. Some people with CFS may have a low blood pressure disorder that triggers the fainting reflex.

In most cases, however, no serious underlying infection or disease is proved to specifically cause CFS. Lack of medical knowledge and understanding of CFS has made determining and describing the characteristics of CFS difficult.

Risk factors

Women are diagnosed with CFS two to four times as often as men are, but sex isn't a proven risk factor for the condition. Because the cause of CFS is unknown, doctors have yet to determine and confirm definite risk factors for the disease.

When to seek medical advice

Fatigue can be a symptom of many illnesses such as infections or psychological disorders. In general, see your doctor if you have fatigue that is excessive or persists for several weeks. Severe fatigue that prevents you from fully participating in activities at home, work or school may be a sign of an underlying medical condition.

Screening and diagnosis

A diagnosis of CFS is based on exclusion. This means that before diagnosing CFS, a doctor has ruled out any other disease or condition that may be causing your fatigue and related symptoms.

In general, doctors find it difficult to diagnose CFS because it has some of the same symptoms as many other diseases. There's no diagnostic or laboratory procedure to confirm the presence of CFS.

Doctors rule out certain conditions before considering a diagnosis of CFS. These include:

  • Having an active medical condition that often results in fatigue, such as low levels of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) or sleep apnea

  • Using medicines that may cause fatigue

  • Having a relapse of a previously treated illnesses that can result in fatigue, such as cancer

  •  Having had a past or current diagnosis of a major depressive disorder or other psychiatric illness such as schizophrenia, dementia or an eating disorder

  • Abusing alcohol or another substance

  • Being severely obese, as defined by a body mass index (BMI) of 45 or greater

In talking with your doctor, be alert to any new clues or symptoms that may show that the problem is caused by something other than CFS. When other diseases or conditions are ruled out, your doctor may then determine if your illness meets specific criteria.


Possible complications of CFS include:

  • Depression, related both to symptoms and lack of diagnosis

  • Side effects and adverse reactions related to medication treatments or lack of activity (deconditioning)

  • Social isolation caused by fatigue

  • Lifestyle restrictions

  • Job impairment

The long-term outlook for people with CFS varies and is unpredictable. Some people recover completely after six months to a year. For others, total recovery takes longer.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
In no event will The DrEddyClinic.com be liable for any decision made or action taken in reliance upon the information provided through this web site.



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Last Modified : 03/15/08 12:33 AM