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HealthInfo Canterbury

Diagnosing & treating chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)

Diagnosis can be difficult because the symptoms of CFS are similar to those of a number of other medical conditions, which need to be ruled out first. For a diagnosis of CFS the symptoms must match both of the following criteria:

If you are experiencing these symptoms, your GP may use more detailed and accurate criteria based on a CFS diagnostic questionnaire to confirm the diagnosis. In children, the diagnosis can be made after 3 months.

The severity of symptoms varies, so the diagnosis may range from mild CFS to severe CFS as follows:

Treating CFS

A treatment plan for CFS aims to relieve the symptoms, which improves your quality of life. The plan should include:

There are some useful medications for treating CFS, and these can be used to relieve some of the symptoms.

Over-the-counter painkillers occasionally can help ease headaches as well as muscle and joint pain. Your doctor may prescribe stronger painkillers, although they should only be used on a short-term basis. You may be referred to a pain management clinic if you have long-term pain or fibromyalgia.

People with CFS usually don’t feel refreshed after sleep, and medication may improve your sleep quality and give you a better chance of recovery.

Antidepressants can be important for people with CFS who are experiencing depression or anxiety as a result of living with CFS. Talk to your GP about whether these might useful for you.

On the next page: Self-care for CFS

Adapted from Health Navigator by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created May 2019.

Page reference: 629837

Review key: HICFS-70801