Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Social Security Disability

Sad woman looking out of window

Oftentimes, Social Security and even some adjudicators fail to understand the severity of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), making it even more difficult for individuals who suffer from the disorder to obtain benefits they desperately need and deserve. Even some health care providers are skeptical about the diagnosis with the notion that CFS is a psychogenic illness or even a “figment of the patient’s imagination.”(1)  CFS can be difficult to diagnose and treat as there is no specific test or cure for the condition, resulting in wrong diagnoses and even treatment. However, CFS has been known to cause a severe impairment and disability, precluding individuals from caring for themselves and working even the simplest job. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are 8 official signs and symptoms of CFS: fatigue; loss of memory or concentration; unexplained muscle pain; pain that moves from one joint to another without swelling or redness; headache of a new type, pattern or severity; sore throat; enlarged lymph nodes in the neck or armpit; un-refreshing sleep; and extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise (2).

Scientists still don’t know the exact causes of CFS, but some factors affecting the disorder include congenital predisposition, viral infections, immune system problems, and hormonal imbalances. Moreover, other medical conditions like depression, increased work absences, social isolation and lifestyle restrictions that sometimes accompany the disorder can, in turn, exacerbate these symptoms. Treatment for CFS tends to focus on providing relief for the specific symptoms on a case-by-case basis. For example, antidepressants may be prescribed if the patient is experiencing depression as one of their symptoms, and/or a medication to assist with sleep if that is an issue. However, therapy that combines psychological counseling with a gentle exercise program has been found to be the most effective in providing overall symptomology relief (3).

A new report from an expert committee of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reveals how severe and disabling CFS can be (4). IOM points out that CFS “is a serious, chronic, complex, multi-system disease that often can profoundly limit the health and activities of affected patients.” In their report, IOM proposes new diagnostic criteria and a new name for CFS: Systemic Exertional Intolerance Disease (5). They believe that this new name will help resolve the unnecessary stigmatization and trivialization that oftentimes accompany the CFS diagnosis.

If you have CFS, or experience these symptoms, call us today to talk with one of our experienced attorneys about whether you may qualify for disability benefits. We understand how frustrating and disabling these symptoms and the stigma can be, making the application and appeal process even more overwhelming. Our attorneys strive to master the ever-changing rules governing disability benefits so that we can best advocate for our clients. Call us today at 888-678-5839 for a free consultation.

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  3. According to the Mayo Clinic. See Alternative avenues for pain relief may also include acupuncture, massage, yoga, or tai chi.
  4. ‘Beyond Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Redefining an Illness.’The full report with supplemental materials is available at:
  5. The new diagnostic criteria proposed would require the patient to have the following symptoms: 1. a substantial reduction or impairment in the ability to engage in pre-illness levels of occupational, educational, social, or personal activities, that persists for more than 6 months and is accompanied by fatigue, which is often profound, is of new or definite onset (not lifelong), is not the result of ongoing excessive exertion, and is not substantially alleviated by rest; 2. post-exertional malaise; and 3. un-refreshing sleep. Further, a cognitive impairment and/or orthostatic intolerance would also be required by the new proposed criteria. The severity and frequency of these symptoms should also be considered according to the IOM.

I will never forget you and the hard work you did to secure my Social Security Disability benefits. Thank you!

- Christine C.