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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

CFS; ME; tired; tiredness; exhaustion; fatigue; headaches; weakness; chronic; syndrome;;


What is Chronic fatigue syndrome?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a bit of a mouthful isn't it? So it's often known by its initials – CFS.

For many years, doctors thought that it was a psychological (say si–ko–lo–jik–al) ailment – that means they thought it was caused by the mind believing the body was sick.

Nowadays, doctors know that it is an illness of the body. Some people who are not health professionals still believe that it is not real and that the person could feel better if they just tried harder.

Sometimes CFS is also called Myalgic Encepholomyelitis (ME). You may see the names used together CFS/ME or ME/CFS.

What it looks like

  • chronic fatigue syndromeFatigue (say fat–eeg) is another name for feeling very tired – so tired that you are not able to do anything at all, even really interesting and fun things.
  • You may feel that you are not able to concentrate or remember things.
  • You may have swollen glands in your neck or under your armpits.
  • Your muscles may feel tired and aching.
  • You may often have headaches.
  • You may have a sore throat most of the time.
  • You may feel absolutely worn out after doing any exercise or even simple things like having a shower or getting dressed.
  • People who have CFS/ME don't feel any better even if they stay in bed and sleep a lot of the time.
  • People who have CFS/ME really want to be able to do things and be with friends, but they can't, and feeling so tired all the time makes them feel really sad and depressed. They may feel that they are alone, that they don't want to talk to others, and maybe they even feel that life is just too awful.

How do you get it?

chronic fatigue syndromeAnyone can get CFS/ME, but it is not usual for kids under 12 to get it.
Doctors don't know why some people get CFS/ME, but they think it may have something to do with the body's immune system not working properly, and maybe a virus infection that triggered it, or maybe something they inherited in their genes made them more likely to get it if they had a trigger of some sort.

Finding out whether someone has CFS/ME can take a long time. There is no test that can prove someone has CFS/ME, so doctors need to check that the person has not got a lot of other health problems that can cause fatigue.

What to do

If you or your friend has CFS, there are some things that may help.

  • chronic fatigue syndromeKeep as active as possible. Staying in bed and sleeping a lot usually does not help. But some people are not able to do much and do need to stay in bed or lie on a sofa a lot of the time.
  • Try to keep going to school and hanging out with friends. Maybe you will only be able to stay at school for a few hours each day and your friends may have to visit you at your home if you feel unable to go out. 
  • Mum or dad may talk with your teacher so that she will understand that some days you may need to stay home or rest at lunchtime, or if you are feeling really tired, take work home that you can do there.
  • Your doctor may suggest gentle exercise, like stretching, walking, t'ai chi or yoga to help build up strength, energy and help you feel happier, but your body may 'tell' you not to do much some days. Be careful not to overdo exercises.
  • Learn to relax properly.
  • Learning to meditate may be helpful.
  • chronic fatigue syndromeEat healthy foods and don't snack on 'treats' while you are resting.
  • Special diets, for example cutting out meat, milk or gluten, do not seem to be helpful.
  • Work out when you have the most energy and do the active stuff at those times.
  • Plan the day so that you have different things to look forward to.
  • Spend time with friends. If your friend has CFS, then be prepared to do less active things with her sometimes.
  • Accept that some days will be worse than others, so don't be too hard on yourself.
  • Getting to know other kids who have CFS can help. You will know that you are not alone and will be able to talk to others who can really understand how it feels on the bad days and the good days.

"I have had CFS for 2 years now, but at last I am getting better. Some people thought I was trying to get out of school or games. I love school and I love games and it has been awful not being able to do what the other kids do. People need to know more about CFS – then they would not be so unkind."

A letter from Jami

Hi there,
I've had CFS for four years now. Have a look at this.

The worst about CFS

  • tiredness
  • headaches
  • sore throats
  • dizziness
  • lack of energy

What I had to stop for CFS

  • playing soccer
  • cross country running
  • swimming long laps
  • races and running
  • sleepovers at friends' houses.

At school

  • I talk with friends.
  • I have one day a week off school, usually Wednesday, so that I can rest.
  • I join in sports but try not to wear myself out.
  • I take it easy in P.E.
  • I do a little exercise each day.
  • I try to keep up with my work.
  • I try to keep happy

Things that help me feel better

  • reading
  • drawing
  • writing stories
  • relaxation
  • sleeping

Dr Kate says:

Dr KateDoctors and scientists around the world are finding more about CFS all the time. There may be days when you feel really 'down' but there will be more and more days when you are feeling well again. Keeping up with friends and school will help.

To find out more about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome have a look at these topics on the Better Health Channel:

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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