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January 27, 2010 at 2:46 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

How Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Diagnosed?

By Smarty More Blogs by This Author

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is very difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are shared by many other conditions. Only recently has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome been gaining attention as an actual illness; in the past it has been stereotyped as a side effect of another ailment or written off as the claim of a hypochondriac. New research has shown that CFS is a serious problem that doctors must be addressed immediately. The first step a doctor must take to diagnose CFS is to evaluate the symptoms and rule out any other possibilities.

Diagnosing CFS

The Centers for Disease Control has published the following guidelines for diagnosing CFS: in addition to extreme fatigue that lasts at least six months and reduces patient's daily activities by at least 50%, patients must exhibit at least four of the following symptoms:

  • Cognitive problems or short term memory loss
  • Muscle or joint pain without inflammation or swelling
  • Headaches
  • Waking up in the morning still feeling very tired
  • Extreme fatigue lasting 24 hours after exercise
  • Sore throat

These symptoms must also be persistent for at least six months and should not have arrived before the fatigue. The patient does not have a previous history of fatigue. In addition, the following symptoms may also be reported:

  • Brain fogginess
  • Exhaustion after minimal exercise
  • Inadequate sleep
  • Aches
  • Thirstiness
  • Repeated infections
  • Bowel irregularities

The CDC maintains that these are only guidelines and should not be thought to be complete and final in diagnosing CFS. Many people who do not fit these criteria may still respond to treatment. It is also important to treat the many symptoms of CFS simultaneously as they tend to exacerbate each other.

More Symptoms

A doctor may find the following upon an office visit:

  • orthostatic hypotension- low blood pressure, especially when standing
  • oral temperatures less than 97 degrees
  • high oral temperatures less than 100 degrees indicative of flu-like symptoms
  • tachycardia- fast heart rate
  • instability when standing with eyes closed

Lab Tests

To diagnose Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in a patient, a doctor will typically perform these traditional lab tests:

  • Complete blood count
  • Chem 20 panel
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
  • Urinalysis

In addition, the doctor may complete the following tests as well: Antinuclear antibodies (ANA) and rheumatoid factor (RF) to rule out systemic lupus and rheumatoid arthritis

  • Thyroid tests
  • Adrenal tests
  • Lyme titers and HIV serology

Specific Tests that May Lead to a CFS Diagnosis

While they do not confirm a Chronic Fatigue Diagnosis, the following tests may be useful for your doctor to perform:

  • Testing for viral infections i.e. Epstein-Barr Virus
  • Immune system tests
  • Exercise testing for cortisol levels, cerebral blood flow, glucose levels, and breathing patterns


Photo Credit: tom@hk

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