The physical severity of chronic fatigue syndrome varies. Most commonly, patients with CFS report that they have trouble fulfilling both home and work responsibilities.
Many CFS sufferers cannot work more than part-time. In unusual cases, patients are severely disabled and even bedridden. They are unable to do even the simplest tasks, such as light housework.
Patients with CFS are more likely to lose their jobs, possessions, and support from friends and family than are people who have other conditions that cause fatigue.
Most patients say that while fatigue is the most incapacitating symptom, mental impairment, such as an inability to concentrate or remember, is the most distressing symptom. The effects of CFS on mental functioning are complex. Some experts believe that the impaired mental functioning is due to depression, which is common in CFS patients.
Although general intelligence is not impaired, CFS patients may test lower in certain mental functions, particularly speed and efficiency in processing complex information, and many may also have memory impairments. This impaired mental function may occur, even if the person does not have depression or other psychiatric disorders.
Long-Term Outlook in Adults
Because the illness remains elusive and poorly defined, and there are few objective measures for recovery, experts have found it difficult to determine the long-term course of the disease. Although some studies have reported that more than half of patients who complain of chronic fatigue are still fatigued at 2 years, with long-term, consistent treatment, many patients can improve and even make a real recovery.
Although CFS itself is not fatal, suicide can be a real risk. Continuing, long-term treatment for CFS and depression can help reduce this risk.
Outlook in Children
Although children with symptoms of chronic fatigue have not been as rigorously studied as adults, limited evidence suggests that CFS can be significantly disabling in young people. Studies report that adolescents who meet the criteria for CFS experience anxiety, depression, and school absenteeism. Children with CFS may have more difficulty than usual paying attention and remembering, which may explain why these kids have more trouble in school than their peers.
Still, some studies indicate that children have a better prognosis than adults and most will recover after 1 - 4 years. Several studies have indicated that cognitive-behavioral therapy is an effective treatment for adolescents with CFS.
Review Date: 01/10/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.