Chronic fatigue

Chronic fatigue is a syndrome that causes persistent fatigue (tiredness) and affects a person’s ever day life. It is not caused by ongoing activity and it does not improve or go away with sleep or rest.

There are several other names for chronic fatigue. It can be referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), post-viral fatigue syndrome (PVFS) and chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS).

Experts aren't sure what causes chronic fatigue. Factors which are thought to increase the risk of someone developing the condition include stress and exhaustion, depression, experiencing a recent traumatic event and childhood trauma. An inherited genetic susceptibility and viral infections such as glandular fever, which weaken the immune system are also thought to increase the risk of developing chronic fatigue.

Most cases are mild or moderate, but up to one in four people with chronic fatigue syndrome have severe or very severe symptoms. For most people, symptoms improve over time but the condition can last for years. Many people make a full recovery and return to work and normal activities.


If you have chronic fatigue syndrome, 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 lif

Exhaustion or severe fatigue is the main symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome. This fatigue can be both mental and physical. It is not simply a loss of motivation (which people with depression often experience). The fatigue can feel different to usual feelings of tiredness. Sometimes, following exercise, the fatigue is delayed and may develop a few hours later or even the next day.

Other symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome include:

  • muscle pain
  • severe headache
  • joint pain
  • poor short-term memory
  • poor concentration
  • depression
  • irritability
  • panic attacks
  • painful lymph nodes (glands of the immune system)
  • stomach pain (including bloating, constipation, nausea or      diarrhoea)
  • sore throat
  • insomnia or sleeping problems.


Although there is no cure for chronic fatigue syndrome, some treatments can help reduce the symptoms. Treatments include:

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

A collaborative therapy that aims to guide the service user towards an understanding of their problems and to develop practical skills to help to deal with these problems. CBT helps with managing the emotional impact of the condition, it looks at whether challenging certain thinking patterns and making some changes to behaviour can improve the symptoms of chronic fatigue. For some people, CBT is the most effective treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome.

Graded exercise therapy

An exercise programme that gradually increases the amount of time you can spend on physical activity. It often involves aerobic exercise such as walking or swimming.

Activity management

Setting individual goals and gradually increasing activity levels. A diary of activity and rest periods may be kept. Activities can then be gradually increased in a manageable way.


This will depend on what symptoms are being experienced and can include painkillers and antidepressants.


Pacing is an important way of controlling symptoms. It involves getting a good balance between activity and rest and avoiding large bursts of exercise that may make the symptoms worse. Pacing allows people with chronic fatigue to make the most of their energy which in turn helps to increase the amount they can do.

Search for chronic fatigue services using our clinical service finder.

Find out more about one possible treatment for chronic fatigue, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT).

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