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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Factsheet (for Schools)

What Teachers Should Know

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a disabling illness that causes extreme tiredness and weakness. It makes routine tasks like getting out of bed, dressing, and eating very hard. It's more common among females than males and more common among teens than younger kids.

CFS can affect school, work, and leisure activities. It can cause physical and emotional symptoms that can last for months or even years.

CFS is sometimes called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). “Myalgic” (my-AL-jik) means muscle aches. “Encephalomyelitis” (in-sef-uh-low-my-eh-LIE-tis) means that there may be inflammation in the brain or spinal cord. 

Scientists have been researching chronic fatigue syndrome for many years, but they still aren't sure what causes it.

Symptoms can vary, and may include:

  • severe tiredness
  • forgetfulness or trouble concentrating
  • headaches
  • stomachaches
  • worse symptoms after physical or mental effort (called post-exertional malaise)
  • symptoms or dizziness that get worse after standing up or sitting upright from a lying down position
  • sleep problems, such as trouble falling or staying asleep, or not having a refreshing sleep

Students who have CFS may:

What Teachers Can Do

CFS can affect a student's attendance, interactions with peers, completion of assignments, and general academic success.

CFS symptoms can vary among students who have it, and a student's symptoms can change from day to day and week to week. So it's important to understand a student's individual needs. Working as a team with the student, parents or guardians, administrators, and a school counselor is the best way to work toward positive outcomes.

Teachers also can help by:

  • reducing schoolwork and information overload when possible
  • assisting the student with note-taking, if necessary
  • being patient with the student, especially during morning hours when CFS symptoms are often worse
  • recommending tutoring if the student has trouble keeping up with assignments
  • allowing extra time on exams and assignments
  • offering time management tools such as an organizer or planner

Depression or anxiety can be problems for students with CFS, so it's important to watch for signs of emotional distress and get help, as needed.

Date reviewed: March 2022