What Medicines Treat Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Although there’s no cure for chronic fatigue syndrome, there are over-the-counter and prescription medications that could ease your symptoms.

Also called also called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS), the symptoms vary from one person to the next. While fatigue and muscle pain might be your worst, constantly awakening unrested and memory loss might be the biggest problems for someone else.

You and your doctor should try to tackle your toughest symptoms first -- the ones that most interfere with your daily life.

Sleep Problems

Many people with ME/CFS have some kind of sleep disorder. Getting a good (or at least better) night’s sleep could help you feel less tired during the day.

First, your doctor will probably make sure you have good sleep habits. These include sticking to a regular bedtime and wake time and keeping your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool.

If this doesn’t improve your sleep, she might suggest an over-the-counter sleep aid, such as an over-the-counter antihistamine. While these can help you sleep soundly through the night, the downside is that the effects can last more than 8 hours. This means you could feel drowsy throughout the day, which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid. But not all sleep aids affect everyone in the same way. Talk to your doctor about which type would be best for you and how to take it.

If over-the-counter sleeping pills don’t do the trick, your doctor might try you on a prescription sleeping pill. The goal with these drugs is to get your sleep on track at the lowest possible dose in the shortest amount of time. You aren’t supposed to take them long term.

Some prescription sleep medications help you get to sleep, such as:

Others that your doctor may prescribe help you stay asleep. For example:

All prescription sleep medications cause side effects. But some of them -- daytime sleepiness, dizziness, unsteadiness, and memory lapse -- are also symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. You and your doctor should weigh the pros and cons. The beneficial effects of many of these medicines wear off in a few weeks, so they are not useful for long-term treatment.

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Stimulants

Some people are prescribed stimulants, like the ones used to treat ADHD. These medicines help ease fatigue and problems with memory and concentration. But they are tricky for chronic fatigue syndrome. They may give you energy and focus, which could cause you to get stuck in a cycle of overdoing it and then “crashing.” That would make your condition worse.

Since people with ME/CFS are very sensitive to any medicines that affect the brain, some people experience irritation and agitation taking stimulants, in conventional doses. They should be prescribed in low doses, by doctors who frequently prescribe them and know how to handle the side effects.

If you and your doctor decide to try a stimulant, there are a lot to choose from. She will help you pick the best one for you.

Help for Your Joints

If ME/CFS gives you muscle and joint pain, your doctor might suggest over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen.

If these don’t help, your doctor might prescribe stronger pain medications or refer you to a pain specialist.

If You’re Dizzy

Some people with chronic fatigue syndrome feel dizzy or light-headed whenever they stand or sit upright. If that sounds like you, prescription drugs that might help. These include:

When You’re Depressed

About half of people with chronic fatigue syndrome develop depression at some point. If you and your doctor decide that an antidepressant is right for you, your doctor will choose one that’s least likely to cause side effects that could worsen your chronic fatigue syndrome. She may also recommend that you go to a counselor for talk therapy.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Anthony L Komaroff, MD on December 04, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Chronic fatigue syndrome.”

FDA: “Side effects of sleep drugs.”

Allen, P. Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, April 2008.

Consumer Reports: “Sleeping pills for insomnia: Which ones work best?”

National Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome Foundation: “The Importance of Orthostatic Intolerance in the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.”

Clinicaltrials.gov, U.S. National Institutes of Health.

 

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