Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome 

The symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) vary from person to person and there are often periods when they are better or worse.

There may be times when your symptoms improve and you'll be able to do many normal, everyday activities. However, at other times your symptoms may flare up and get worse, affecting your daily life.

Fatigue

The main symptom of CFS is persistent physical and mental fatigue (exhaustion). This does not go away with sleep or rest and limits your usual activities.

Most people with CFS describe this fatigue as overwhelming, and a different type of tiredness from what they have experienced before.

Exercising can make symptoms worse. This is called post-exertional malaise, or 'payback'. 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.

People with severe CFS are unable to do any activities themselves or can only carry out simple daily tasks, such as brushing their teeth. They are sometimes confined to their bed and are often unable to leave their house. 

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, and difficulty organising thoughts and finding the right words ('brain fog')
  • painful lymph nodes (small glands of the immune system)
  • stomach pain and other problems similar to irritable bowel syndrome, such as bloating, constipationdiarrhoea and nausea
  • sore throat 
  • sleeping problems, such as insomnia and feeling that sleep is not refreshing
  • 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

Page last reviewed: 20/03/2013

Next review due: 20/03/2015