Chronic fatigue syndrome (ME)

Much more serious than just wanting to sleep in all the time, The Mix looks at what chronic fatigue syndrome is, and what typical ME symptoms feel like.

Two young people are standing outside talking about me symptoms

What is chronic fatigue syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) causes severe exhaustion that doesn’t go away, even if you sleep, and it can’t be explained by illness. It’s also known as ME, which stands for myalgic encephalopathy.

It’s not certain what causes chronic fatigue, theories include viral infections, problems with the immune system, an imbalance of hormones or psychological causes.

ME symptoms are numerous, and vary in intensity, but can combine to leave sufferers feeling wiped out for long periods (way beyond the common recovery time from a virus such as flu).

250,000 people in the UK are estimated to suffer from chronic fatigue syndromes such as ME.

Symptoms of chronic fatigue

Symptoms of chronic fatigue cover a broad range of experiences and often fluctuate from day to day. Here’s what to look out for:

  • Feeling tired most of the time
  • Pain in muscles and joints
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Short term memory problems
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritable bowel
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches and nausea
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Depression, often associated with problems at school/college/work as a result of the illness. Find more info on depression here.

Treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome

ME is now recognised as a medical condition, but it is difficult to prove that you definitely have it, and no sure-fire cure exists. Instead, medical practitioners focus on treating individual symptoms. See your GP in the first instance, and discuss some of these popular therapies:

  • Stress reduction: Look at your lifestyle, and tackle any activities or issues that leave you feeling strung out. Learn more about coping with stress here.
  • Lifestyle modification: If possible, aim to strike a balance between work and rest.
  • Acupuncture: Many people swear that this treatment improves wellbeing.
  • Homeopathy: Works on the principle that homeopathic remedies can strengthen the body’s power of recovery.
  • Counselling can help you get to grips with the roots of depression. Ask your doctor to recommend a psychotherapist or self-help group. Cognitive behavioural therapy can also help.

Will chronic fatigue affect my studies?

Dealing with constant exhaustion can make studying, going to college and getting through university more difficult. Depending on how severe your chronic fatigue is, you might find it hard to get out of bed in the mornings and get to classes, or to do revision.

The best thing you can do is to pace yourself. Focus on looking after your health and getting treatment for ME. When it comes to revision, start by doing a little, maybe just an hour a day, then build it up if you feel you can. Don’t rush into doing huge amounts of revision as you’ll just become even more exhausted.

Tell your personal tutor, a teacher or university counsellor about your chronic fatigue so they can help you get the right support and balance your workload.

Will chronic fatigue affect my social life?

If you’re suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome you might find it hard to be out and about with all of your friends. Like with studying, you need to make sure you pace your social life.

However, having chronic fatigue doesn’t mean you can’t make new friends or keep in touch with old ones. Luckily technology means you can stay social without exerting yourself too much:

  • Make friends online – using community boards or chat rooms to make friends can be done from your computer. Why not join our discussion boards here on The Mix? We’ve also got an article on how to make friends online here.
  • Call your friends – no body movement involved and you can have a catch-up.
  • Text your friends – If having a full on conversation feels too much for you, send them a text asking how they are.
  • Invite your friends to you – If you’ve got the energy to see them but can’t cope with leaving your house, invite friends over to watch a film.
  • Go somewhere nearby – when you have the energy to go out, do something as near to where you live as you can to avoid exhausting yourself.

Next Steps

By The Mix Staff

Updated on 10-Nov-2022