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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 difficult. It's more common among females than males and more common among adolescents 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.

The cause of CFS is not yet known. Researchers are exploring the possibility that people with CFS may have problems with their immune system or nervous system.

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)
  • worse symptoms or dizziness 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:

  • miss class time and homework assignments due to CFS symptoms
  • need extra time to take tests and hand in assignments
  • appear lazy, lethargic, rundown, and inattentive
  • have depression or anxiety
  • need a 504 education plan or individualized educational plan (IEP)
  • have trouble socializing with peers due to symptoms and missed class time

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
  • permitting extra time on exams and assignments
  • offering time management tools such as an organizer or planner
  • encouraging physical activity and peer interaction when appropriate

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.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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