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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is a complex illness, without a known cause, that affects many parts of the body including the nervous system, brain, muscles, gut, immune system and cardiac system.
CFS most often affects children in mid to late teens (age 12–18) but can occur at any age. It is three times more common in females.
The term ‘myalgic encephalomyelitis’ means pain in the muscles and inflammation in the brain and spinal cord.
Young people present with extreme and unexplained tiredness/fatigue which lasts for at least three months. They may also have other symptoms which make it difficult for them to play sport, socialise and go to school. Some symptoms may occur suddenly whilst others may appear gradually over months or years.
The main symptom of CFS is extreme tiredness that:
Other common features:
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a condition that can be hard to determine the cause.
Triggers may include:
There is no test to diagnose Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. CFS is diagnosed using a set of validated diagnostic criteria.
Your GP will ask a number of important questions (see below), examine your child and order blood tests.
These blood tests are not used to diagnose CFS, but are important to look for other causes of your child’s symptoms which may be similar to CFS. Blood tests may also be used to identify and treat any nutritional deficiencies that may be contributing to your child's symptoms e.g., iron deficiency.
Questions may include:
Your doctor might refer your child to see a paediatrician who will help create a management team and management plan to help your child and family.
It is important to see your family doctor if symptoms are affecting your child’s normal activities e.g., socialising or exercising or impacting on their school attendance.
If your child has been experiencing some of the symptoms above for a few weeks, is very unwell or not getting better, it is important for them to get reviewed.
You do not need to wait until your child has three months of symptoms before seeing a doctor.
There is currently no specific cure for CFS but many of the symptoms your child is experiencing can be managed.
Management of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome involves:
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome can have a significant impact on a child and family’s life but is not life threatening. Most teenagers will recover with good function but it often takes months to years.
What causes chronic fatigue syndrome?
The cause of CFS is unknown but it is often triggered by a virus.
Is there any test to confirm the diagnosis?
There is no test to confirm the diagnosis at this stage. Tests may be ordered to rule out other causes of your child’s symptoms and treat any contributing factors e.g., nutritional issues.
Can chronic fatigue syndrome be cured?
There is no cure currently for CFS but many of the symptoms can be managed.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital General Medicine and Adolescent Medicine departments. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed July 2022.
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