Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2002;65(6):1095

What causes chronic fatigue syndrome?

No one is sure what causes chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). The symptoms may be caused by an immune system that isn't working well. They may be caused by a kind of virus. Researchers are looking for a cause of CFS.

How can I help myself?

The best chance for you to feel better is to be as physically active as possible. Below are some ideas to get you started.


Modest exercise reduces fatigue and improves functioning and fitness in up to 75 percent of people with CFS. It's important to exercise within your limits. Begin with as little as 5 minutes of light to moderate exercise a day. Then slowly increase how long and how hard you exercise. Always stop exercising before you feel overly tired.

Try different forms of physical activity, such as walking, swimming, pool exercises, stationary exercise machines, stretching, T'ai chi, and yoga.


Eat a well-balanced diet that's low in fat but high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. Avoid eating too many simple sugars such as candy and sweets. Eat more fruits and vegetables. They're good sources of energy and vitamins and minerals.

Sleep habits

If possible, go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Do not watch TV in bed; it will make it harder for you to fall asleep. Avoid daytime napping.

Reduce stress

Set reasonable limits for yourself. Trying to do too much will only make things worse. Share responsibilities and plan your day's activities for times when you usually feel better. There are many relaxation techniques that can help you manage stress and chronic pain, such as deep breathing, meditation, and massage therapy.

Get informed

There are many resources available with information about CFS. The following are good Internet sources for information and various types of support:

Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome Association of America

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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