Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

While research indicates that any person may develop chronic fatigue syndrome, women are four times more likely to experience the disorder than men. Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by extreme, sometimes disabling, fatigue that does not improve with bed rest and may be worsened by physical or mental activity. Since there are no known causes of chronic fatigue syndrome and no diagnostic laboratory tests to identify the disorder, researchers have set strict guidelines for diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome. Patients must have experienced severe chronic fatigue lasting 6 months or longer (with other known medical conditions excluded), and at least four of the following symptoms: impairment in short-term memory or concentration; sore throat; tender lymph nodes; muscle pain; multi-joint pain (without swelling or redness); headaches; unrefreshing sleep; and postexertional malaise lasting more than 24 hours. In addition, these symptoms must have occurred prior to the onset of the fatigue and have persisted during at least 6 months of illness.1

While national population-based studies of chronic fatigue syndrome prevalence have not been conducted, research on the disorder has been underway for over 20 years. The CDC estimates that more than one million people in the United States are affected by chronic fatigue syndrome, while millions more experience symptoms but do not meet the strict criteria described above. A recent study conducted in the State of Georgia estimated that approximately 2.5 percent of adults aged 18–59 years may have chronic fatigue syndrome.2 Chronic fatigue syndrome is more common among people in their 40s and 50s than among other age groups.ibid In addition, it appears that fewer than 20 percent of persons with chronic fatigue syndrome have ever received a diagnosis and treatment for the illness.3

1 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Basic Facts. May 9, 2006., accessed 2/5/08.
2 Reeves WC, Jones JF, Maloney E, Heim C, Hoaglin DC, Boneva RS, Morrissey M, Devlin R. Prevalence of chronic fatigue syndrome in metropolitan, urban, and rural Georgia. Population Health Metrics. 2007; 5:5.
3 Reyes M, Nisenbaum R, Hoaglin DC, Unger ER, Emmons C, Randall B, Stewart JA, Abbey S, Jones JF, Gantz N, Minden S, Reeves WC. Prevalence and incidence of chronic fatigue syndrome in Wichita, Kansas. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2003; 163:1530-1536.

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