About chronic fatigue syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) makes people feel extremely tired all the time. Children with chronic fatigue syndrome might also have a range of other symptoms. These symptoms make it hard for children and teenagers to do everyday things like going to school or socialising.

Chronic fatigue syndrome most often affects people 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 symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome are quite vague. It’s very hard to diagnose because it often happens with other conditions like fibromyalgia.

Also, chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms are the same as the symptoms of many other conditions. Doctors diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome only when they’ve ruled out other causes for the symptoms.

The main sign of chronic fatigue syndrome is extreme tiredness that:

  • lasts three months or more
  • can’t be explained by another illness
  • can be worse after exercise.

Other signs and symptoms can include:

  • difficulty sleeping
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • racing heart
  • pain
  • sore throat
  • difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • general feeling of being unwell.

These symptoms can appear suddenly or more gradually and might be mild or more severe.

Should your child see a doctor about chronic fatigue syndrome?

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
  • the symptoms are affecting your child’s normal activities – for example, they’re stopping your child from going to school.

Tests for chronic fatigue syndrome

There’s no test to diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome.

Your GP or paediatrician will look at your child’s symptoms and try to find other causes for the symptoms before looking at chronic fatigue syndrome as a diagnosis.

The doctor usually won’t diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome unless your child has had the symptoms for at least three months, and the symptoms still can’t be explained by any other illness.

Treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome

There’s currently no specific cure for chronic fatigue syndrome. But if your child is diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, there are treatments that can help with the symptoms.

In most cases, your doctor will work with your child to develop an individual management plan. Your child’s individual management plan will probably focus on helping your child to manage symptoms so that he can get on with daily life as much as possible.

The management plan might include the following strategies:

  • Cognitive behaviour therapy: this involves your child talking to a psychologist about how to cope better with the situation.
  • Activity management: this involves looking at your child’s current activity and either decreasing or slowly increasing her activity load.
  • Healthy diet: your child needs to eat a wide range of healthy foods.
  • Stress management and relaxation: this might involve things like counselling or meditation.
  • Medication: sometimes doctors prescribe medication to help manage some of the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome – for example, pain medication.

You and your child should have lots of input into the management plan, so it’s important for you to find health professionals you can work well with. As well as your GP, your child might work with a psychologist, physiotherapist, occupational therapist or dietitian.

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 to recover.

Causes of chronic fatigue syndrome

We don’t fully understand what causes chronic fatigue syndrome. It can happen after a viral infection or a traumatic event.