Chronic fatigue: an illness or a symptom?

fatigue chronique

Did you know that fatigue over an extended period of time is an illness in its own right?

Yes, it is, I assure you!

Olà, it’s Dr Joy.

Today I’d like to tell you about a little-known condition that is often seen as a symptom: chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis).


What is chronic fatigue?

As I said, chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis) is an illness in its own right.

I will also use the term asthenia, which is the medical term used to define fatigue.

Asthenia refers to abnormal fatigue that persists even after rest (or when it disappears only partially). It causes an unpleasant and distressing feeling of being unable to carry out some of one’s daily activities. An individual suffering from asthenia feels an imbalance between what they need to do and what they feel able to do.

Chronic fatigue syndrome occurs suddenly, most often between the ages of 20 and 50, in people who are very involved in their daily activities.

Up to 25% of the population report experiencing chronic fatigue, but only 0.5% of the population (1 in 200 people) have chronic fatigue syndrome. It occurs more often in young and middle-aged women than in men.

The disease has a strong socio-professional impact and can lead to psychological disorders.

There are many causes of chronic fatigue syndrome:

  • Infection (due to a herpes virus, Borrelia bacteria, etc.)
  • Immunological problems
  • Psychological disorders
  • Etc.

People with chronic fatigue syndrome have very real symptoms…

What are the symptoms of chronic fatigue?

Chronic fatigue is severe, disabling and long-lasting. It has no proven physical or psychological cause, and no abnormalities detected on clinical examination or laboratory tests.

People with this condition often use the following terms:

  • Lassitude
  • Weakness
  • Loss of strength
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling tired all the time, “washed out”, “drained”.
  • Etc.

The main symptoms observed are:

  • Permanent fatigue
  • Discomfort after exercise
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Deep fatigue and intolerance to standing
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Infection-like symptoms: pharyngitis, moderate fever and a feeling of “hot/cold”.

When these symptoms persist for more than six months, it is called chronic asthenia/fatigue.

Other symptoms may include insomnia, sore throat, headache, abdominal pain. Depression is common, especially when symptoms are severe or worsening.

How is it treated?

Prescribed treatments are adapted to each individual case.

A change in lifestyle and the gradual resumption of an adapted physical activity are essential.

However, the doctor can :

  • Modify existing treatment when a drug is involved in the occurrence of chronic asthenia
  • Offer psychological support through behavioural and cognitive therapy
  • Prescribe antidepressants in case of depression
  • Etc.

It is possible that the chronic fatigue is related to one’s work life. In this case, the doctor treating the patient will inform the occupational physician, who will assess the need for specialised treatment or a change of job.

Combating chronic fatigue

The fight against chronic fatigue syndrome is mainly based on a healthy lifestyle, stress management, regular physical activity and addressing the cause.

Here is my advice:

  • Try sophrology
    To improve stress management, what better way than sophrology? It is essentially based on physical and mental relaxation obtained through breathing exercises, muscle relaxation and the visualisation of soothing images.

Sophrology allows you to acquire a better knowledge of yourself, to approach daily life with serenity and therefore less stress.

And thanks to the exercises you learn, you will be able to manage your stress if you are faced with an uncomfortable situation.

  • Practise a physical activity

I’m not telling you to start preparing for a half-marathon, but implementing some basic physical activity contributes to the overall well-being of the body.

Whether it’s going for a walk or taking the stairs instead of the lift, these daily habits will gradually help to improve your physical health while respecting its rhythm.

  • Avoid the use of stimulants

The consumption of stimulants such as coffee, tea, colas, and other energy drinks has more consequences than benefits.

In moderate doses, they can improve your concentration and alertness. But when consumed in excess, they cause fatigue.

And in the evening, they can be a real nuisance to your sleep. For more information, don’t hesitate to ask a dietician-nutritionist for advice.

Also, try as far as possible to go to bed and get up at the same time during the week and at weekends to respect your circadian cycle.

You now know everything there is to know about chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis. If you have been experiencing severe fatigue for more than 6 months, I recommend that you talk to your doctor.

Até ja,

Dr Joy!


This information is not a substitute for medical advice. 

You must seek the advice of your doctor or another qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health condition.

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