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Causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME)

by Sarah Graham
Friday 13 March 2015
229 4340

"Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) and is relatively common (estimated to affect 250,000 people in the UK)," explains Accredited Counsellor Karole Thomas.

"It is characterised by persistent and debilitating fatigue that affects everyday life and does not go away with sleep or rest. Symptoms include fatigue, malaise, headaches, sleep disturbance, poor concentration and muscle pain. The symptoms may vary in intensity and severity, and have a substantial, negative impact on day-to-day living. Each person with CFS will experience it in his or her own way." The exact cause of CFS remains unknown, but it is believed to be caused by a combination of physical and emotional factors. We asked two RSCPP therapists to explain the contributing factors that can lead to CFS.

Viral infection 

Many sufferers of ME or CFS can trace the onset of their condition back to a viral illness such as flu or glandular fever, from which in effect they do not recover. I find it helpful to think of ME or CFS as a post-viral response by the body, which gets stuck and turns into an automatic, chronic condition that gradually weakens your physical and mental health. It 'latches' itself on to unresolved emotional issues, which then become part of a complicated mix of symptoms, which is why anti-depressant medication and therapy are both effective as part of a treatment plan.
Registered Counsellor Fran Mullins


Mental health issues

Mental exhaustion, anxiety, depression, stress, or other emotional trauma can also cause CFS. Initially it may be difficult to see whether you are experiencing CFS or depression and anxiety alone, as the symptoms are very similar. If you are experiencing CFS, you may become depressed and/or anxious over time if you are unable to do what you want (or think you should be doing) and if you believe you are letting other people or yourself down. You may believe you will never get better, and lose hope of leading a 'normal' life again. A common experience in CFS is that, as the symptoms fluctuate over time, when you feel better you may try and catch up on things that you have not been able to do, and do as much as you can at once to make the most of the opportunity. Unfortunately what happens as a result is that you try to do too much at once (overdo it), subsequently feel more tired and ill, and so believe you have made no progress at all.


Other physical causes

Other physical causes that may cause CSF include problems with your immune system, hormonal imbalance, factors related to your genetic make-up, and experiences of physical trauma, such as surgery or a serious accident. 

Finding support

If you are concerned about the issues raised in this article then you may like to read about finding the right therapist for you. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.

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Updated 13 March 2015