Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) – A Chinese Medicine Perspective

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) – A Chinese Medicine Perspective

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that is characterised by longterm exhaustion, muscle weakness, depression and sleep disturbances. Patients suffering from CFS feel so tired that they are unable to do even half of their normal daily activities. This fatigue persists, even with more rest. The fatigue may last as little as a month, or it may persist for many years. CFS affects twice as many women as men. The cause of CFS is unknown, but it is believed that viral infections and/or immune system reaction may be responsible. Risk factors include extreme stress or anxiety, flu-like illness that doesn't completely go away, and poor eating habits.

Conventional Pharmaceutical Treatments


To help manage their symptoms your CFS patient may be taking medications such as: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – given to help reduce pain and inflammation. Antidepressants – for management of depressive symptoms. These drugs can also reduce fatigue, reduce muscle tension and improve sleep.  Benzodiazepines – to help reduce anxiety and improve sleep.


Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in Chinese Medicine


In TCM, categories similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) are:

1. Xu Lao (vacuity taxation, any pattern of severe vacuity),

2. Yu Zheng (depression pattern), and

3. Bai He Bing (a disease characterized by the patient having the desire for something but the inability to fulfil the desire, e.g. a desire to rest, but inability to sleep).

Note: There may be other categoriesdepending on the presentation of thedisorder.


It is important to note that patients diagnosed with what is termed a “syndrome” in modern medicine tend to present with a group of patterns rather than a clear-cut, text-book pattern presentation. Hence, it is important in clinic to establish which patterns yourpatient exhibits, in what priority and to tailor treatment accordingly. During this process, it helps to differentiate between the manifestation of the disease and the underlying constitution – i.e. answer the question: “How did the patient get to where he is now?”.

Huang Xiao Bo, et al. of the Xuan Wu Hospital (Beijing)1 suggest that the often young CFS patients develop CFS due to being under considerable career or other pressure in daily life, while not being able to rest properly. This can result in a frustrated or depressed frame of mind and exhaustion. Often insufficient recovery from illness is part of the picture as well. In our modern Western society, we can add improper diet to the scenario. This combination of exhaustion, illness and improper diet lead to vacuity (mostly spleen qi, blood and yin vacuity), while pressures in daily life and a negative mental outlook give rise to Liver depression/depressive heat.


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 *Reproduced with kind permission from Health World Limited – Australia and New Zealand

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