The main symptom of CFS/ME is feeling extremely tired and generally unwell.
Symptoms vary from person to person, and the severity of symptoms can vary from day to day, or even within a day.
Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
The main symptom of CFS/ME is extreme physical and mental tiredness (fatigue) that does not go away with rest or sleep. This can make it difficult to carry out everyday tasks and activities.
Most people with CFS/ME describe their fatigue as overwhelming and a different type of tiredness from what they've experienced before.
Other symptoms of CFS/ME
Other symptoms of CFS/ME include:
- sleep problems, such as insomnia
- muscle or joint pain
- a sore throat or sore glands that are not swollen
- problems thinking, remembering or concentrating
- flu-like symptoms
- feeling dizzy or sick
- fast or irregular heartbeats (heart palpitations)
Exercising usually makes the symptoms of CFS/ME worse. Sometimes the effect is delayed and you'll feel very tired a few hours after you've exercised, or even the next day.
Severity of symptoms
Most cases of CFS/ME are mild or moderate, but up to 1 in 4 people have severe symptoms. If your symptoms are severe, a specialist should be involved in your treatment.
CFS/ME symptoms can be considered:
- mild – you're able to carry out everyday activities, such as work, studies or housework, but with difficulty; you may need to give up hobbies or social activities so you can rest in your spare time
- moderate – you may have difficulty moving around easily and problems carrying out daily activities; you may not be able to work or continue with your education and may need to rest often; and you may also have problems sleeping at night
- severe – you may only be able to do very basic daily tasks, such as brushing your teeth; you may be housebound or even bedbound and may need a wheelchair to get around; and you may also have difficulty concentrating, be sensitive to noise and light, and take a long time to recover after activities involving extra effort, such as leaving the house or talking for long periods
There may be times when your symptoms get worse. These periods are known as setbacks or relapses.
What else could it be?
The symptoms of CFS/ME are similar to those of other conditions, including postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS), where you have an abnormal increase in heart rate after sitting or standing up, which can cause dizziness, fainting and other symptoms.
If you think you may have CFS/ME, it's important to see a GP to make sure you get a correct diagnosis.