Understanding Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Written by CWD Editor
Last updated Thursday February 17 2022

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), also known as ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), is a long-term health condition that affects adults and children. There are many different symptoms of chronic fatigue, and it manifests in different ways for different people, but it is most commonly recognised as extreme tiredness.  

Roughly 17 million people worldwide live with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, facing varying degrees of challenges because of it. This article will explore what Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is, how it affects people’s working lives, and what we can do to support sufferers at work.  

Many people can relieve the symptoms of CFS and even make a full recovery over time. However, for others, CFS is something that you learnt to manage and live with over time. It is also common for people to experience periods where it is better and others worse.  

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? 

CFS is a long-term illness that disproportionally affects women, but it does also affect men. It is unknown what causes it, but some theories include serious viral infections and bacterial infections, emotional trauma and stress, and your genes. 

The most common symptom of CFS is a general feeling of extreme tiredness and feeling unwell. Some of the other less common symptoms include: 

  • Headaches 
  • Muscle ache 
  • Sore throat 
  • Sleep problems 
  • Heart palpitations 
  • Feeling dizzy 
  • Nausea 

It is essential to be aware that people experience CFS in different ways and that a person’s symptoms can vary from day to day. This is one reason it can be challenging to manage at work, as there is very little consistency in how the condition can manifest. 

Some of the treatments which people with CFS have found helpful in relieving their symptoms and treating CFS include: 

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy 
  • Medication to control symptoms such as pain and nausea 
  • Support with lifestyles such as exercise and daily routine 

Managing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at Work 

The extreme tiredness that comes with chronic fatigue can make everyday life very challenging, especially working. Some people who only have mild symptoms can continue working with adjustments and support from their employers. In contrast, others may have to take more extended periods off work or stop working altogether. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is classed as a medical disability and therefore is included in the 2010 Equality Act, which protects people with disabilities from discrimination at work. 

If you have CFS and are considering going back to work, make sure to speak to your GP and your support system to see if that is the right choice for you. Some of the ways your employer can support you at work include: 

  • Changing to part-time due to your lower energy levels and asking for flexible working hours so that you can choose to work when you feel most well. Many people with CFS experience a change in their symptoms throughout the day and may find parts of the day or week more challenging than others. 
  • Having a phased return to work, rather than returning to full-time straight away. This way, you can see how much you can manage and plan the next few weeks and months accordingly. 
  • Having any assistive technology or adjustments to your environment can help you feel better at work and complete your work easier. 
  • Changing where you work. For example, some people with CFS find it easier to work from home as they don’t have to commute and feel their symptoms less severely in the comfort of their own home. 

To find out more about how you can manage disabilities in the workplace, head to the disability advice hub. 

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Last Updated: Thursday February 17 2022

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