Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome You’d Never Expect

There are plenty of underlying health conditions that affect your energy throughout the day. However, if you find yourself constantly exhausted, there’s a chance that you have chronic fatigue syndrome. CFS, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, is difficult to diagnose.

According to the Institute of Medicine, 836,000 to 2.5 million Americans experience ME/CFS, but 84 to 91% of people go without a diagnosis. It has no real cause, very few treatments, and is often the result of medical issues like viral infections or hormonal imbalances. These symptoms indicate that you may be plagued by ME/CFS.

Memory loss

A woman looks at her phone stressfully.

Memory loss is a sign of chronic fatigue syndrome. | Fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Another difficult symptom to diagnose is memory loss or “brain fog.” Chronic fatigue patients report they feel forgetful, have issues concentrating, and occasionally experience speech problems and trouble remembering words. Everyday Health reports a study that finds people with ME/CFS have memory skills ranging from 5 to 20% below those of healthier participants.

There are multiple coping strategies for fatigue-related memory loss including lifestyle and home remedies. Be wary of drugs intended to treat brain fog such as the stimulant Provigil. These medicines can result in high spikes and low dips in energy that hurt you more in the long term. 

Joint and muscle pain

A man holds his lower back.

It might be more than just sore muscles. | Globalmoments/iStock/Getty Images

Another common side effect of ME/CFS is unpredictable joint pain. This pain moves among joints with no indication of swelling or redness.

All joints and muscles are at risk with ME/CFS. Patients commonly report signs of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder as a result of jaw-clenching in their sleep. Treat joint and muscle pain as well as TMJ with anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxers, among other pain-relieving options.


A woman sits in her desk looking tired.

Feeling exhausted every day? | Mihail Ulianikov/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Chronic fatigue syndrome patients show side effects of both mental and physical fatigue. However, it goes far beyond just these signs. Men and women who receive a diagnosis commonly have severe fatigue that no amount of sleep can solve.

These periods of fatigue disappear unexpectedly (remission) and reappear with little cause (relapse). This impedes your quality of life and affects your daily routine.

Long recovery periods post-workout

A woman rubs her sore muscle.

You experience mildly sore muscles for days. | Dragon Images/iStock/Getty Images

A good workout will leave you tired and ready for recovery. However, it shouldn’t leave you exhausted for 24 hours — unless you suffer from CFS.

A study conducted by the University of Florida explains in detail why exercise amplifies exhaustion in ME/CFS patients. “The neural pathways that transmit feelings of fatigue to the brain may be overactive in those plagued with CFS.”

Frequent headaches

Headache during work at the office.

If you experience frequent headaches, talk to your doctor. | Gpointstudio/iStock/Getty Images

Everyone gets the occasional migraine, some with unexpected signs. However, headaches associated with ME/CFS will have unpredictable patterns of length, severity, and location.

ME/CFS is categorized as a central sensitivity syndrome. As a result, those suffering will respond severely to various levels of noise, light, and fragrances. These stimuli can induce and increase migraines and headaches.

Swollen lymph nodes

Female doctor's hands putting on blue sterilized surgical gloves

Your doctor will be able to check for symptoms. | Bojan89/Getty Images

Enlarged lymph nodes can occur in the throat and underarm as a result of ME/CFS. Swollen lymph nodes are generally a sign of a viral infection. Sufferers may experience swollen lymph nodes among other signs of inflamed muscles. Try these inflammation-fighting foods to help combat these symptoms.

Non-restorative sleep

Young woman on bed having headache

This might be why you never wake up refreshed. | Twinsterphoto/iStock/Getty Images

The severity of ME/CFS is variable and complex. A key sign you’re experiencing chronic fatigue is when you don’t wake up energized from a good night’s sleep.

This poor-quality rest is often referred to as non-restorative sleep. This study of abnormalities of sleep in patients with ME/CFS discovered a link between the chronic condition and other contributing sleep conditions. According to the study, “Most patients with the chronic fatigue syndrome had sleep disorders, which are likely to contribute to daytime fatigue.”