What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) is a long term (chronic) neurological condition that effects the nervous and immune systems.

According to Emerge Australia, it is estimated there are around 250,000 Australians living with ME/CFS.

Those with ME/CFS experience pain and fatigue associated with post-exertional malaise (PEM). In other words, your body finds it hard to recover from even small amounts of exertion. This is different from ordinary tiredness. For example, it may take a day or two for fatigue to present after physical, mental or emotional exertion.


Symptoms vary from person to person and can fluctuate with regard to severity.

These can include:

  • feeling generally unwell
  • pain
  • broken sleep
  • problems with concentration, thinking and memory (‘brain fog’)
  • speech and language problems, including word-finding difficulties
  • poor temperature control
  • dizziness
  • being very sensitive to light and sound
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle pain (myalgia)

The impact of these symptoms can also understandably lead to frustration, anxiety, low mood and depression.


As a syndrome is a group of symptoms which consistently occur together, or a condition characterised by a set of associated symptoms, ME/CFS seems to have a variety of causes. The causes of ME/CFS continue to be researched, but some factors are emerging as having likely associations. These triggers include:

  • post viral
  • trauma
  • surgery
  • stressful major life events
  • exposure to toxins including mould

In some cases, there is no identifiable trigger.

Where can I get help?

Working with a trusted medical practitioner who understands both you and your condition is paramount. This may mean finding an integrative or functional medical practitioner, or a naturopath. In the case of my son, finding the right person was key to his recovery. As was lifestyle change. I believe lifestyle change can support the recovery from ME/CFS, or at the very least improve quality of life for the sufferer.

The areas I have found that support recovery:

  • Healthy eating. The most appropriate diet will depend on the individual, for some, forgoing highly processed foods and eating a nutrient dense whole foods diet which includes good quality protein is enough. For others some further exploration about particular foods which they may be sensitive to is required. Finding help for this from someone who is open to more than one approach to healthy eating is essential.
  • Stress management. Finding a way to deal with the stress of being unwell for long periods of time, and lowering stress levels to support your body to heal is key.
  • Sleep. An issue for most with ME/CFS. Finding ways to improve your sleep will support your health and contribute to recovery.
  • Exercise/movement. Exercise is one of the pillars of health, but listening to your body, and being aware of limitations is particularly important for people with ME/CFS. Exercise can increase as you recover, but always with the approach of working within your current physical boundaries.
  • Community. Having the right support around you is vital.
    • A health practitioner you trust (as discussed above).Family and friends, noting some may not understand, but if open, may respond to education/information.Online communities with ME/CFS focus. The usual caveats apply here; what works for one may not work for another, but support from such groups, and that level of understanding from others on their journey can be very helpful.
    • A health coach. Someone who is trained and accredited and who you feel a connection to is a great tool. A coach can assist and support you to make the changes you want to make and provide a wide range of information if needed. A coach is a behavioural change expert who develops your autonomous motivation, increases your capacity to change, helps you set goals and be accountable and supports you in setting and reaching a higher level of wellbeing.

If you or someone you care for has ME/CFS there is help out there. As always, I am happy to provide a free discovery call to help you sort out what your next step may be.

Helpful Resources

Emerge Australia

ME/CFS Australia

National Health & Medical Research Council (Australian Government) – ME/CFS Advisory Committee

ME/CFS Australia Community – Private Facebook Group

ME/CFS & the NDIS – Private Facebook Group

Podcast episode: Dr Mark Donohoe