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This site gives you information NOT medical advice. You should consult your medical practitioner if you have any unexplained symptoms of illness or concerns about treatment. Do not stop a prescribed conventional treatment without consulting a doctor. Tell all the practitioners you're working with, conventional or complementary, about any medicines, remedies, herbs or supplements you are taking or considering using.


What is chronic fatigue?

Tiredness in your mind or your body is normal after you've been working hard. And prolonged stress, whether at work or at home, can lead to unexpected tiredness. Poor sleep will make you feel tired too, of course.

Ordinary tiredness is common. In about 25% of all general practitioner (GP) consultations, patients complain of feeling tired all the time, and it is the main reason for seeing the doctor in 6.5% of consultations. Of those who visit their doctor because of persistent tiredness, fewer than 30% will have an actual disease. About half will have a mainly psychological cause - tiredness is often a symptom of depression. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) suggests that perhaps 1 in 250 people in the UK have chronic fatigue syndrome.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disorder that causes extreme fatigue. This fatigue is not the kind of tired feeling that goes away after you rest. Instead, it lasts a long time and limits ability to do ordinary daily activities.

Symptoms of CFS include fatigue for six months or more and experiencing other problems such as muscle pain, memory problems, headaches, pain in multiple joints, sleep problems, sore throat and tender lymph nodes. Since other illnesses can cause similar symptoms, CFS is hard to diagnose.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US say: 'No one knows what causes CFS. It is most common in women in their forties and fifties, but anyone can have it. It can last for years. There is no cure for CFS, so the goal of treatment is to improve symptoms. Medicines may treat pain, sleep disorders and other problems.'

If you have been feeling exhausted for more than six months, and have been able to do a lot less because of this, you should talk to your doctor and consider having some simple tests done. Your GP will want to find out what is making you feel so exhausted. If the test results are normal, you may have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). This is sometimes also called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), but the name myalgic encephalomyelitis suggests that the brain is inflamed, which isn't actually what happens in most people who have CFS.

In fact CFS does sometimes come on after a viral illness but the reasons why aren't fully understood. Though depression can make people feel achy and tired all the time, not everyone who has CFS is depressed. Many experts believe there are different kinds of CFS, so no single treatment will be suitable for everyone who has it. Most doctors would agree that CFS is hard to diagnose and treat, and that good self-care plays a very important part in recovery.

Other information that might be helpful

Even if you don't have CFS, but often feel tired, this leaflet may offer you some ideas on how to improve your well-being:

  • If you think that you might be suffering from anxiety (feeling unusually nervous or having worrying thoughts that are keeping you awake a lot), you might find our leaflet on STRESS AND ANXIETY helpful.
  • If you are feeling 'low' (particularly if you're waking early), or if you're feeling very down about yourself, you might you might find our leaflet on DEPRESSION helpful.
  • If sleepiness or other sleep problems are more of a difficulty than fatigue itself you might find our leaflet on SLEEP PROBLEMS helpful.