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Top Ten Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By HERWriter
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Mental Health related image Photo: ThinkStock

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a designer disease. It etches a unique signature into each of its sufferers. My worst symptoms are different from someone else's. But certain things remain a common experience. The following symptoms seem universal.

1) Cognition Problems

There are days spent as a CFS vegetable, and times when everything in our heads is tumbling like clothes in a dryer. Thoughts dissolve before they're fully formed, thinking is disjointed, short-term memory evaporates. We may experience difficulty in talking, and understanding speech. We may have problems with dyscalculia (dyslexia with numbers).

2) Unrefreshing Sleep

Some have insomnia, others can't stay awake. Sleeping hours may be erratic, whether short or long. Night - day, sleep - wake, may be reversed. Whatever the CFS sleep dysregulation, many of us never wake refreshed.

3) Muscle and Joint Pain

Pain can be pervasive. Joints and muscles become stiff and sore, and sometimes stop working at all, seemingly for no reason. These symptoms can take weeks or months to ease -- or move right in and never go away.

4) Vertigo

Vertigo comes in many forms. Dizziness, mental disorientation, tinnitis, vision fractured and blurred, I have seen the world through all these prisms. I've seen floors rise up, and walls undulate inwards and outwards. Some people with CFS are bumping into things, falling down, unable to move, overcome with nausea and vomiting. The cause of these symptoms is uncertain, cure -- you guessed it -- unknown.

5) Post-Exertional Malaise (PEM)

PEM really makes life with CFS unpredictable. Will I be bed-ridden tomorrow because I spent an hour doing paperwork today? Will I awaken in pain because I went for a walk? I can go to the store tomorrow if I don't do anything now. That's because two days in a row of "extra" activity can cost six weeks recovery-time.

6) Increased Sensitivity to Sight and Sound

A ticking clock, flashing lights on a jazzy website, the busyness of a TV screen. People talking in another room. Any of this -- and more -- can send CFS sufferers to their room with neurological symptoms swirling.

7) Sore Throat, Swollen or Tender Lymph Nodes

Lots of infection for our bodies to deal with and our immune systems are goofed up for some reason. Hypervigilant in some respects. (Many researchers consider CFS an auto-immune disease, like MS, or lupus -- the body attacking itself.) Slothful and doltish in others, allowing infection to proliferate and reproduce.

8) Gastrointestinal Problems

Name your poison -- someone with CFS is going to be sick from it. For me, it's carbohydrates, except for most vegetables. For someone else it's meat. Nightshades. Or something else. And reactions are just as varied -- nausea, sharp stabbing pain in the gut, anxious feelings, brain fog, irritable bowel syndrome, panic attacks, numbness and tingling, weakness, rashes ... the list goes on.

9) Parasthesia

Welcome to the psychedelic side of CFS. Parasthesia refers to strange physical sensations in general. Hot and cold. Numbness, tingling, shooting pains, swirling, inner vibrating, and a feeling of one's physical boundaries and outline flashing in and out or on and off.

10) Orthostatic Intolerance (OI)

This is the inability to stay upright. That "gonna fall down right NOW" feeling.

Orthostatic Hypotension is one type of OI. Blood pressure drops upon standing, and for some reason the body doesn't stabilize it. You can't stand up without getting dizzy and light-headed, because the blood can't get up into your head. Or you can stand up but you can't stay up -- i.e., you fall down.

Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) is another example. A person with this can't stand up for more than a few minutes. They begin to feel all kinds of crazy things. They must sit or lie down to feel normal again. Researchers guess it's got to do with the fact that most CFS sufferers have low blood volume, and all the water we can drink doesn't seem to fix it.

This is not an exhaustive list of CFS symptoms, they are just among the most common. If you know someone with CFS, they've probably dealt with all of them at some point.


Phoenix Rising



I spent 15 years losing the battle against CFS. Two years ago, I found treatment that worked for me, and now I am making a comeback.



Add a Comment7 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

This is a great list of symptoms of CFS - I have experienced each of the symptoms you've identified. It puts into words what I have felt, but haven't been able to explain to others. There are so many symptoms that sometimes you think you're losing your mind... Am I really feeling an internal vibration or am I going crazy? It's so reassuring to see what I have been feeling explained so well by someone else... Thank-you.

May 21, 2013 - 1:57pm
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

I'm happy to be of service.


May 21, 2013 - 2:48pm
EmpowHER Guest

Man, so true, i just want to hit the computer screen reading it! Give me a tumor anyday, at least id know what the heck was wrong with me.

October 21, 2009 - 4:05pm
EmpowHER Guest

I don't think it's necessarily that CFS is different for everyone, but rather the current thinking is that CFS is a heterogeneous disorder which is comprised of subsets, and each of these subsets is a distinct clinical entity which merely presents similarly. So people who belong to different subsets might not have all the same symptoms, but people who are of the same subset most likely would.

For instance, my illness had a gradual onset with no sore throat, no swollen lymph nodes and a progressive disease course, so this would most likely be different than someone who had a sudden 'flu-like' onset, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat and stable, though poor, illness course.

September 4, 2009 - 11:14am
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)


I have heard that theory and it appears to have merit. It certainly makes it easier to deal with the variety of symptoms.

September 4, 2009 - 2:54pm
EmpowHER Guest

Goodness, that’s scary! Was wondering about the insomnia bit though. Isn’t insomnia a reason behind CFS? Or is it the other way around?
From personal experience, I have found that the best way to deal with CFS is to get medical help as soon as possible!

September 4, 2009 - 5:27am
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)


Insomnia is not a cause of CFS, it can be a symptom of it.

You referred to personal experience. Do you have CFS or know someone who does?

September 4, 2009 - 2:50pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.