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Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome

If you have chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), there  will be times when your symptoms improve. You will be able to do many  normal, everyday activities.

However, at other times your symptoms can flare up and get worse.  This affects your daily life.


The main symptom of CFS is severe fatigue (tiredness) following mental or physical activity. This does not go away with sleep or rest,  and limits your usual activities.

Fatigue is mental as well as physical. Some people describe it as overwhelming. You may feel that:

  • It is a different type of tiredness from what you have  experienced before.
  • After sleeping you do not feel refreshed.
  • It is not due to exhaustion.
  • It is not simply a loss of motivation, which people with  depression often experience.

Exercising can make symptoms worse. This is called post-exertional  malaise. The effect of this is sometimes delayed. For example, if you  were to play a game of sport, the resulting fatigue may not develop for a few hours afterwards, or even the next day.

Other symptoms

There are other common symptoms as well as fatigue, although most  people do not have all of them. They include:

  • Muscular pain, joint pain and severe headaches.
  • Poor short-term memory and concentration.
  • Difficulty organising your thoughts and finding the right words.
  • Painful lymph nodes (small glands of the immune system).
  • Stomach pain and other problems similar to irritable bowel  syndrome, such as bloating, constipation, diarrhoea and nausea.
  • Sore throat.
  • Sleeping problems, such as insomnia and disturbed sleep.
  • Sensitivity or intolerance to light, loud noise, alcohol and  certain foods.
  • Psychological difficulties, such as depression, irritability and panic attacks.
  • Less common symptoms, such as dizziness, excess sweating,  balance problems and difficulty controlling body temperature.

Effects of Chronic fatigue syndrome

CFS/ME causes extreme tiredness. This is very different from any  'normal' tiredness that you have experienced before. It's often  described as making you feel completely drained. CFS/ME may happen over  several months or years and your health may deteriorate.

CFS/ME makes you less able to cope with levels of activity that were  previously normal for you, in your work, school or social life. Even  everyday physical activity, such as taking a shower, may make you feel  exhausted.

Common symptoms of CFS/ME, which can happen 24 to 48 hours after  mental or physical activity, include:

  • fatigue that lasts more than 24 hours after exertion at a level that you used to be able to manage without feeling tired
  • muscle and joint pain, but no swelling
  • painful glands in your neck or armpits
  • a sore throat and headaches
  • forgetfulness, memory loss, confusion, or difficulty concentrating
  • sleep disturbances - waking up feeling tired or unrested or having  trouble getting to sleep
  • flu-like symptoms
  • palpitations (the sensation of feeling your heartbeat thumping in  your chest)
  • dizziness and nausea
  • sweating
  • visible muscle twitching
  • irritable bowel syndrome symptoms such as constipation or diarrhoea and bloating
  • mood swings

Your symptoms may vary throughout the day - some days they may be  mild and other days more troublesome.

Most people with CFS/ME find that their symptoms come and go, often  returning after illness or stress.





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