Treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

There is no cure for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and the goals of treatment are to control symptoms and reduce the impact of the disease on daily life. Prior to treatment, conditions that cause similar symptoms must be ruled out. Most patients who have CFS require a treatment program that addresses individual symptoms.

In many cases, a combination of traditional and alternative treatments is used. Usually, treatment programs are developed by a team of health care specialists, which may include physicians, mental health providers, physical therapists, and dieticians. Over-the-counter and prescription medications (e.g., pain relievers, tricyclic antidepressants) may be used to reduce symptoms of CFS such as pain, depression, and difficulty concentrating.

To reduce fatigue, it is important for patients to learn how to manage activity levels and sleep patterns. Many patients experience a worsening of symptoms (called exacerbation) following physical or mental exertion, but in most cases, the correct level of activity and exercise can improve symptoms.

The goal is to properly balance periods of activity and rest, to reduce stress and pain and improve sleep and mental health. Exercise programs should be tailored to each patient, should be started slowly, and should include strength, flexibility, and conditioning exercises. Patients who are severely ill require a modified approach to activity.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help some patients cope with chronic fatigue syndrome by reducing stress and symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy emphasizes the ways in which thinking affects health. Therapy is designed to teach patients how to identify the reasons behind feelings and behaviors, and to help patients learn how to replace these thoughts with those that can improve health.

Alternative therapies that may be beneficial include the following:

  • Deep breathing techniques
  • Healing touch
  • Massage
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Tai chi (type of movement therapy)
  • Yoga

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 29 Sep 2006

Last Modified: 04 Sep 2015