How do I know if I have chronic fatigue syndrome?

As the pandemic continues, some COVID-19 survivors are experiencing a variety of health issues – such as severe exhaustion, headaches, muscle pain and cognitive issues. These experiences have some medical professionals believing  there may be a connection between COVID-19 and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

“We know that viruses have been implicated in chronic fatigue syndrome,” said Syed Zaidi, MD, a family medicine provider with OSF Medical Group. “The diagnosis is more than six months of profound chronic fatigue, so do we have patients coming near that six-month point? They got this early and are just recovered from COVID, but their life still isn’t where it used to be and that is where this conversation is coming from.”

What causes chronic fatigue?

masked businessman holds his head shielding his eyes on a blue backgroundAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic fatigue syndrome affects up to 2.5 million people in the United States, although many more remain undiagnosed. Anyone – adults, children, adolescents – can get CFS, but it’s most common between the ages of 40 and 60. Women are more likely than men to be impacted by CFS.

According to Dr. Zaidi, there is no test to diagnose CFS. Some of the possible causes are infections, changes to your immune system, genetics and stress.

“Basically, it is an immune response to what we know,” Dr. Zaidi said.

Anything that stimulates a response to stress can cause CFS. That could be a bacterial or viral infection, a prolonged illness or prolonged hospitalization.

What are the symptoms of chronic fatigue?

Among the symptoms are severe fatigue that comes from work, physical activity, shopping or something as simple as showering. Other symptoms include sleep problems and muscle pain and aches.

“Fatigue is a vague symptom. It could be coming from a lot of different things,” Dr. Zaidi said. “We have to properly investigate how long it’s been occurring, and rule out secondary causes. Could it be sleep apnea, depression, a thyroid problem, could it be anemic? Those are to name a few.”

Dr. Zaidi recommends talking to your doctor about your symptoms and have the appropriate bloodwork done to eliminate other causes.

How is chronic fatigue treated?

As far as treatment goes, Dr. Zaidi said the biggest help to a person suffering from CFS is to offer emotional support. A regimented physical therapy program is also recommended. It’s also important not to overdo it when it comes to activities and to get proper rest when needed. Patience and understanding are especially important for persons recovering from a COVID-19 diagnosis.

“As long as you mentally understand what this disease is and what outcomes there can be for you, we can get down to what aspects of your quality of life you’d like the greatest improvement. That’s where that discussion between you and your doctor is going to have to happen,” Dr. Zaidi said.

Last Updated: February 9, 2022

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About Author: Alex Rusciano

Alex Rusciano is a writing coordinator for OSF HealthCare, where he has worked since January 2016. A Michigan native, he is a graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in journalism. Previously, he worked as a radio news reporter in Iowa and for 89.9-FM WCBU in Peoria.

He lives in Peoria with his wife and their pets. In his free time he likes to read, run and bake. He freely admits that freshly-brewed coffee is his greatest weakness.

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