Chronic fatigue syndrome

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 12 February 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:399
  1. Kieran Walsh, editorial registrar (bmjlearning{at}
  1. BMJ Learning

    Chronic fatigue syndrome, which can affect children and adults, puts a heavy burden on patients, carers, and families. It is characterised by overwhelming mental and physical fatigue accompanied by a wide range of other symptoms. Treatment is supportive, encouraging the patient to manage activity, rehabilitation, and symptom control.

    Chronic fatigue syndrome can affect people of either sex, at any age, and of any racial, ethnic, and social group. But its cause remains unknown. Specific infections may act as a trigger in come people. Examples of such infections include Epstein-Barr virus (up to 10% of patients with infectious mononucleosis may develop chronic fatigue syndrome), enteroviruses, viral meningitis, and viral hepatitis.

    Estimates of the prevalence of chronic fatigue syndrome in Britain range from 0.4% to 2.6%, so general practitioners are likely to have patients with this condition on their list. To find out more, try our new learning module “Chronic fatigue syndrome” on The module outlines the basics of the diagnosis and management and gives useful tips. For example, delayed exacerbation of symptoms after exercise (occurring up to 72 hours later) is a typical feature of the syndrome.

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