A Guide To Diagnosing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS)

A Guide To Diagnosing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS)

“More than one million Americans have CFS yet less than 20% have been diagnosed. this is a major health concern.”

Dr. William Reeves, M.D. Director of the CDC’s CFS Research program

Not An Easy Process! Diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is not always easy. Because no laboratory tests are diagnostic for it diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) involves examining your symptoms and excluding other diseases that could cause them. Your physician will take your personal history, probably asking questions such as:

  • When did your fatigue start?

  • How have your energy and activity levels been affected?

  • Are your symptoms worse after you exercise?

  • Do you have any problems with sleep?

  • Do you have any problems with memory or concentration?

  • Do you have any pain?

  • What prescription or over the counter medications are you taking?

  • Do you use drugs or drink alcohol?

  • Have you been under increased stress lately?

Dig Deeper! : I’m Fatigued – Do I Have chronic fatigue syndrome?

Ruling Out Other Diseases Because many CFS symptoms are fairly general a key part of a diagnosis involves ruling out other diseases that could cause them such as mononucleosis, multiple sclerosis, chronic Lyme disease, sleep disorders, severe obesity and reactions to medications. Physicians knowledgeable about CFS may use the criteria below to determine if you have it.

The 1994 International (“Fukuda”) Definition For Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: A person is considered to have CFS if they have:

Chronic Fatigue: unexplained, persistent or relapsing chronic fatigue that is not substantially alleviated by rest, and results in substantial reductions in levels of occupational, educational, social, or personal activities; and

A Certain Set of Symptoms: four or more of the following symptoms for 6 or more consecutive months

  • self-reported impairment in short-term memory or concentration

  • post-exertional malaise (extreme, prolonged exhaustion and exacerbation of symptoms following physical or mental exertion)

  • unrefreshing sleep

  • muscle pain

  • multi-joint pain without joint swelling or redness

  • sore throat

  • tender neck lymph nodes

  • headaches of a new type, pattern, or severity

A Detailed Medical History: The CDC recommends physicians give potential CFS patients a thorough physical examination and mental screening including the following tests :

Laboratory Tests: urinalysis, total protein, glucose, C-reactive protein, phosphorous, electrolytes, complete blood count (CBC) with leukocyte differential, alkaline phosphatase (ALP), creatinine, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), albumin, ANA and rheumatoid factor, globulin, calcium alanine aminotransferase (ALT) or aspartate transaminase serum (AST), thyroid function tests (TSH and Free T4).

Finding A Physician: CFS is only now slowly making its way into the curriculum at medical schools and many physicians know little about it. The Centers For Disease Control estimates that only about 15-20% of CFS patients have been diagnosed. What to do if you’re having trouble getting diagnosed? The Finding a Physician Page may be helpful (Page is Coming Soon).

Take An Online Test – because a CFS diagnosis requires ensuring that you do not have another disease only a physician can diagnose CFS. The CFIDS Association of America provides, however, an online questionnaire that can help people understand whether or not they may have CFS.

To Prognosis and Treatment Success Rates


Centers For Disease Control: Diagnosing CFS / CFS Toolkit

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