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Chronic fatigue occurs when symptoms of exhaustion or lack of energy last for more than six months. The specific cause of this long-lasting exhaustion is unknown. However, it is thought that sleep disturbances, hormone levels, and stress may play a role. In many cases, a person's lack of energy may be a symptom of another problem, such as fibromyalgia, cancer, or a reaction to medication.

What Is Chronic Fatigue?

Most people will experience fatigue at some point in their lives. In most cases, fatigue:
  • Refers to exhaustion during or after usual daily activities
  • Refers to a lack of energy to begin these activities
  • May result from exertion, lack of sleep, or illnesses such as colds
  • Generally goes away after getting more rest or recovering from a cold.
However, chronic fatigue occurs when symptoms of exhaustion or lack of energy last for more than six months.

Chronic Fatigue Versus Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue is a symptom of many diseases. While chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a condition, chronic fatigue is only one symptom. In order to be diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, a person must have chronic fatigue and four or more of the following symptoms:
  • Substantial impairment in short-term memory or concentration
  • Sore throat
  • Tender lymph nodes
  • Muscle pain
  • Multi-joint pain without swelling or redness
  • Headaches of a new type, pattern, or severity
  • Unrefreshing sleep (insomnia)
  • Post-exercise fatigue lasting more than 24 hours.


(Click Chronic Fatigue Symptoms for a closer look at the symptoms of chronic fatigue.)


Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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