Better Me

If You’re Tired All the Time, It Could Be Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

If you can barely remember the last time you felt energized all day and ready to tackle whatever came your way, a health condition might be causing your fatigue. Different health conditions can sap your energy, leaving you feeling sluggish and listless, and one of them is chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also called myalgic encephalomyelitis.

What is chronic fatigue syndrome?

CFS is a long-term condition characterized by fatigue that worsens with exertion and makes you feel so tired that you can’t complete normal, daily activities, but does not improve with rest.

CFS is more common in younger and middle-aged women, but people of any age or gender could develop it. Genetics may also play a role.

Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome

If you have CFS, you might have these symptoms:

  • Fatigue that doesn’t let up with rest or sleep
  • Feeling extremely tired after exercising
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain

Harvey Hsu, MD, medical director at Banner - University Medicine Internal Medicine Clinic in Phoenix, AZ, said, “It can be difficult to know if you have chronic fatigue syndrome since fatigue is a very common symptom.”

If you feel moderate or severe fatigue for at least six months, talk to your health care provider. You’ll need to rule out other causes of long-term fatigue, such as low thyroid levels, low red blood cell counts, autoimmune disease, depression and sleep apnea.

What causes chronic fatigue syndrome?

Dr. Hsu said several conditions could trigger CFS, including infections such as mononucleosis, autoimmune disorders and an altered immune system that makes it difficult to fight off an infection.

Many people who have been infected with the COVID-19 virus feel fatigued for a long time, and Dr. Hsu predicts that many will meet the criteria for CFS once six months have passed.

Preventing and treating chronic fatigue syndrome

You can reduce the likelihood you’ll develop CFS by taking care of your health, sleeping enough and avoiding infections.

If you’re diagnosed with CFS, improving your sleep, treating any mood disorders and managing pain can help. Physical therapy can help some people, and cognitive therapy can help if you have trouble concentrating. CFS is rarely fatal, and some people recover spontaneously.

“Each person is different, so it is important to learn your limits and pace yourself with exercise and any activity,” Dr. Hsu said. “Trying to push yourself can cause exhaustion and make your symptoms worse.”

There’s a lot of misinformation about treatments for CFS. “Antibiotics, special diets, vitamin supplements and steroids have not shown consistent benefit,” Dr. Hsu said.

“There is hope for better treatments for CFS in the future,” Dr. Hsu said. And since people recovering from COVID-19 sometimes develop CFS, there are new opportunities to learn about the disease.

The bottom line

Many health conditions can cause long-lasting fatigue, including chronic fatigue syndrome. If you’ve been feeling tired for more than six months, talk to your health care provider so you can get to the root of the problem and get your energy back. If you don’t have a provider, connect with a Banner health care professional who can help.

Here are more tips to help you beat fatigue:

COVID-19 Infectious Disease