About chronic fatigue syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) makes people feel extremely tired all the time. Children and teenagers with chronic fatigue syndrome might also have other symptoms that make it hard for them to do everyday things like going to school, playing sport or socialising.
Chronic fatigue syndrome most often affects children in the mid-to-late teenage years, but it can affect younger children too.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is also called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).
Signs and symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome
The main sign of chronic fatigue syndrome is extreme tiredness that:
- lasts 3 or more months
- is usually worse after exercise
- doesn’t get better with rest or sleep
- can’t be explained by another illness.
Other signs and symptoms can include:
- difficulty sleeping, including trouble getting to sleep, waking up during the night and waking up in the morning not feeling refreshed
- difficulty when standing upright, including dizziness, nausea or feeling aware of the heart beating
- muscle or joint pain, stomach pain or headaches
- sore throat
- swollen lymph glands with no sign of an underlying infection or illness
- difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- anxiety or low mood
- feeling inappropriately hot or cold
- general feeling of being unwell.
These symptoms can appear suddenly or more gradually. They might be mild or more severe.
Should your child see a doctor about chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms?
Yes. It’s a good idea to take your child to see your GP if your child:
- has been experiencing the symptoms above for more than a few weeks
- can’t do their normal activities because of the symptoms – for example, your child can’t go to school, play sport or socialise.
Diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome
There’s no test to diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome.
Your GP will look at your child’s symptoms and order blood tests to try to find other causes for the symptoms before looking at chronic fatigue syndrome as a diagnosis.
The GP might send your child to a paediatrician for diagnosis.
Doctors usually won’t diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome unless your child has had the symptoms for at least 3 months, and the symptoms still can’t be explained by any other illness.
Treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome
There’s currently no specific cure or treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome. But if your child is diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, there are things your child can do to manage their condition.
In most cases, your doctor will work with your child to develop an individual management plan. Your child’s individual management plan will focus on helping your child to manage their individual symptoms and their physical, mental and emotional health. This will help your child get on with daily life as much as possible.
The management plan might include the following strategies:
- Activity and lifestyle guidance: this involves supporting your child to get back to school, socialise and do physical activity. For example, your child might need a reduced timetable at school.
- Good sleep strategies: these include a set bedtime each night with no screen time for 1-2 hours before bed.
- Stress management and relaxation: this might include counselling, meditation and regular enjoyable activities outside home.
- Medication: sometimes doctors prescribe medication for some of the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. This might include pain medicine or sleep medicine.
Your child’s management plan should be reviewed regularly.
Your child might work with a team of health professionals on their management plan. These professionals might include the GP or paediatrician and a psychologist, physiotherapist, exercise physiologist or dietitian. It’s important that these professionals are people you and your child can work well with, because you and your child should have plenty of input into your child’s management plan.
We don’t know much about recovery from chronic fatigue syndrome. Some children might recover in several months, but other children might take several years or longer to recover.
Causes of chronic fatigue syndrome
We don’t fully understand what causes chronic fatigue syndrome, but it usually happens after an infection.