What is ME/CFS?

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ME/CFS Definition by CDC

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) is a debilitating and complex disorder characterized by intense fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity. People with CFS most often function at a substantially lower level of activity than they were capable of before the onset of illness. The cause or causes of CFS have not been identified and no specific diagnostic tests are available. Therefore, in order to be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, a patient must satisfy two criteria:

  1. Have severe chronic fatigue for at least six months or longer with other known medical conditions (whose manifestation includes fatigue) excluded by clinical diagnosis; and
  2. Concurrently have four or more of the following symptoms:
    • post-exertional malaise
    • impaired memory or concentration
    • unrefreshing sleep
    • muscle pain
    • multi-joint pain without redness or swelling
    • tender cervical or axillary lymph nodes
    • sore throat
    • headaches

The symptoms must have persisted or recurred during six or more consecutive months of illness and must not have predated the fatigue.

Other Commonly Observed Symptoms in CFS

Challenges in Diagnosis

Diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) can be complicated by a number of factors:

  1. There's no diagnostic laboratory test or biomarker for CFS.
  2. Fatigue and other symptoms of CFS are common to many illnesses.
  3. CFS is an invisible illness and many patients don't look sick.
  4. The illness has a pattern of remission and relapse.
  5. Symptoms vary from person to person in type, number and severity. (The severity of CFS varies greatly from patient to patient, with some people able to maintain fairly active lives within strictly observed limits. For others, CFS has a profound impact, and they may be housebound or bedbound most of the time or fully disabled.
  6. These factors have contributed to an alarmingly low diagnosis rate. Of the four million Americans who have CFS, less than 20% have been diagnosed.

CDC: Center for Disease Control Definition

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