How is chronic fatigue syndrome treated?

How is chronic fatigue syndrome treated?

How is chronic fatigue syndrome treated?

It is generally advised that if you suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, you should take it easy and try to pace yourself as much as possible. This means that you should attempt to avoid any emotional stress or excessive physical activity.

It is vital to remember that the goal for treating CFS is to avoid any pain or fatigue from progressing. It is advised that you implement a daily routine that can be easily managed and followed in order to avoid the progression of symptoms or a relapse. Any exercise that you perform should be done under supervision from a PT (physical therapist) or doctor. It is also best to avoid complete rest (i.e. some exercise should still be undertaken) as stopping all physical activity can make you feel more fatigued. Therefore, you should try to maintain some physical activity that is conducted at a steady and comfortable pace. If you wish to increase your physical activity, then you should do so at a gradual rate. Decreased amounts of caffeine and alcohol may also help you to sleep better. Social isolation should also be minimised as being around people and taking your mind off your condition may help to improve your overall mood.

Your treatment plan will be dependent on the symptoms experienced. Being diagnosed early, following a treatment plan, taking medications and controlling certain symptoms are all factors that will aid in your recovery. CFS can last for a number of months and even years, yet some people, through treatment and pacing themselves will recover completely and successfully return to the pace of their normal life. However, other less fortunate cases may have their symptoms aggravated due to lack of treatment and knowledge.

 Psychologist treating a woman

The treatment plans for chronic fatigue syndrome

There are a number of different treatment options for CFS, it is likely that your doctor will choose one tailored to you in order for your personal symptoms to be managed.

Your doctor will first discuss the options and explain what the side effects and benefits of these are. From this, a personalised plan is likely to be developed for you. Should your symptoms be more severe, then your doctor may also refer you to a specialist such as a psychologist to help you manage mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression associated with CFS. Your doctor will regularly review your treatment plan and your recovery, making adjustments where necessary for the best results.

Specialist treatments for CFS

The following are the different specialist treatments available for those with CFS:

CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy)

This is a type of vocal (talking) treatment designed to aid in managing the way that you behave and think. This technique may aid in the following ways:

  • Helping you to accept your condition for what it is
  • Allowing you to feel that you have control of your own symptoms
  • Challenging the emotions that may be preventing your symptoms from improving
  • Gaining a thorough understanding of the cause and effect relationship between your behaviour and your condition

The CBT therapist is likely to have some experience in dealing with those who have CFS and will offer the treatment on a personal basis.

The usage of CBT as a psychological method of treatment does not mean that chronic fatigue syndrome is a mental condition or “all in your head”, rather cognitive behavioural therapy is part of a broader scope of treatment for several long-term disorders.

GET (graded exercise therapy)

This treatment technique is conducted through an exercise programme that is structured to gradually increase the amount of time you perform physical activity. GET typically involves raising your heart rate through walking or swimming and the programme is tailored to your personal physical capabilities.

GET will be conducted by a specialist who has hopefully had some experience with CFS patients, and is normally done on a personal, one-on-one basis.

Once finding out what your capabilities are, the length and intensity of the exercise will be increased gradually. You will also set goals to reach with your trainer. These goals may take a number of weeks or even years to achieve, but it is vital to try to reach these as this will help with the improvement of your condition.

Activity management

This technique ties in with GET and will involve you setting your own personal goals in daily life and recording your rest periods and current activity in a diary. You will then gradually increase these over time, bearing in mind that you should not over exert yourself as this may result in your symptoms progressing, but you should rather perform physical exercise and activities in a way that is manageable and without any adverse after effects.


Currently, there is no specific drug or medication for the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome, but there are a number of medications available to aid in the improvement and relief of symptoms.


OTC (over-the-counter) pain relievers may help in easing headaches and any joint and muscle pain you suffer from. Your doctor may also prescribe some stronger medications, although these should only be used short-term.

Antidepressants and sleeping tablets are often prescribed to those who suffer from depression as a result of chronic fatigue syndrome. These often aid in improving sleeping issues and relieving pain. Some of these include:

  • Amitriptyline – This is a low-dose antidepressant drug and also aids in easing muscle pain
  • Sertraline (Zoloft) and Bupropion (Wellbutrin) – These are used to treat any issues regarding sleep or pain and can also aid in the improvement of psychological issues.

Lifestyle changes

Supplements and diet

These lifestyle changes should be an additional form of treatment to medications and the aforementioned techniques.

Supplements and diet may play a vital role in the improvement of your symptoms. A number of doctors will suggest that you stick to a balanced and healthy diet. You may be referred to a dietitian who will be able to design a meal plan for you that ensures you are getting the nutrients and energy you need from the food you eat.

Supplements also have several benefits, some of these include:

  • Vitamin C – Aids in boosting the immune system
  • Vitamin B12 – Prevents anaemia and keeps your body’s blood and nerve cells healthy
  • Coenzyme Q10 – Promotes energy and cell growth
  • Magnesium – Aids in keeping your blood pressure normal, increases energy and calms anxiety and nerves, as well as offering a number of other health benefits

Rest, relaxation and sleep

If you suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome you may battle to:

  • Fall asleep and fall into a deep sleep
  • Wake up feeling refreshed
  • Get enough sleep as you feel as though you still need more
  • Sleep during the night as you may sleep more during the day

Your doctor may be able to help you in establishing a healthy sleeping pattern. You may find that you need to sleep during the day, if this is the case, and it is possible for you to do so, then your doctor is likely to suggest that you have naps that are no longer that 30 minutes so that you are still able to get a good night’s sleep.

There are also a number of breathing and relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing that may be able to help you to feel refreshed during the day as opposed to having a nap.

Other lifestyle changes to help manage CFS

Some people who have severe CFS may need to have a special badge to enable them to park their car in the disabled parking area as walking far distances is extremely difficult for them to do. They may even need a stairlift to be fitted in their homes, and in the most severe cases, a wheelchair will need to be implemented.

Counselling and support groups

There are some community support groups for those who suffer from CFS, however, not every patient will find these to be useful and a number of people do not get their symptoms diagnosed or recognise this as a real condition. It is vital to see chronic fatigue syndrome as a very real and, in some cases, severe condition that can have a vast and complicated impact on one’s life.

Relapses or setbacks of CFS

Relapses are a common experience if you suffer from CFS, this is when your symptoms feel significantly worse for a period of time. The condition will usually follow cycles or patterns of remission and relapses. Relapses are often the result of several factors such as unplanned mental or physical activity or infection. In some cases, there is no clear or specific cause. Your specialist or doctor can help you to manage these relapses by:

  • Prescribing any medication necessary to help alleviate symptoms
  • Teaching you breathing and relaxation techniques
  • Including more rest periods in your activities
  • Encouraging you to be positive regarding the outlook and recovery of your condition

What is the follow-up care?

Your doctor and/or specialist is likely to ensure that you schedule regular check-ins and follow-up appointments so that he or she can ensure your condition is improving and modify your treatment if need be.

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