What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

by Helene Malmsio

What is chronic fatigue syndrome? It doesn't sound like anything very serious, but it can be.

In some cases people are left unable to work or do anything active for many years.

Others have it more mildly, but it can be unpredictable, making it difficult for anybody with CFS to live a normal life.

To help non-sufferers imagine what is chronic fatigue syndrome, we could say that it’s like when you have flu (real flu, not just a bad cold) but without the fever.

In fact, in the majority of cases it starts after a viral illness and the person just does not get 100% well again.

They may have strange aches and pains, but the main symptom is fatigue: not being able to do very much without needing a rest.

Some people are as if in the early stages of flu: they cannot leave their beds without assistance, are likely to fall down if they try to walk, and appear to the outsider not to want to do anything (although they are probably very frustrated and anxious about their condition).

Others are more like somebody recovering from the flu who might be able to do a few things like preparing a simple meal, taking a shower or talking to a friend on the phone, but needs a lot of breaks and rests between activities, and probably sits on the couch like a zombie for a large part of the day.

People who have it more mildly may be able to work part-time (especially if the work is not too physical or stressful) and take some exercise such as walking.

But if they do too much - either physically, mentally or socially - they are likely to relapse to the 'zombie on the couch' or even the bedbound stage.

It is often impossible for somebody with CFS to hold down a job even if they are relatively active, because symptoms can be unpredictable.

A little bit of over-activity or stress at work could mean the person would be unable to work again for a while.

Only a very understanding employer would give a CFS patient the flexibility to adjust their working hours according to how they felt - which is the solution that most people suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome would need.

What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: The Prognosis

If the stages that we just described occurred one after another, like recovering from the flu, and you knew that after a certain number of days, weeks, months or even years you would gradually get back to normal, it would not be so bad.

The problem is that people take so long to get well, and have so many ups and downs along the way, that it is hard to see that we are making progress at all.

In fact, some people never get any better and some get worse, especially in the first few years.

Or they may seem to have a slow but steady progression toward better health, only to suffer a relapse (often after a simple viral illness such as a cold) and be right back where they started.

But to look at it more optimistically, most patients do improve.

They just do it at different rates and not necessarily in a steady way.

The important thing is to learn to manage the illness so that you do not overtire yourself, and try to protect yourself against viruses with a healthy diet and perhaps vitamin supplements.

If you have more questions about what is chronic fatigue syndrome, please explore our other articles for more information.

Learn more about CFS causes, symptoms and natural fatigue remedies when you read the rest of our information here about: How to treat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome CFS.


Friends and family don't understand chronic fatigue syndrome but we do. We can help you BEAT CFS and give you your life back. Feel normal again!

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