Complex Chronic Diseases

Many Canadians are affected by complex chronic diseases (CCD). CCD’s are illnesses that last a long time, require treatment and management, and often do not get better on their own. Some CCD’s are known as “syndromes”. A syndrome is when a distinct group of symptoms cause an illness and loss of function. Fibromyalgia (FM) and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), also called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), are 2 conditions known as syndromes. Both of these syndromes have no blood or lab tests to confirm diagnosis.


Fibromyalgia (FM) was recognized by the American College of Rheumatology as a true syndrome in 1990. FM can occur in both men and women, but women are more often affected. There is no known cause for this condition. Early diagnosis can help you avoid further complications and allows for better management of your symptoms.

The main symptom of FM is pain that is felt to all parts of your body and lasts for at least 3 months. Over time the pain becomes more constant, and it can affect more areas of your body. The location of the pain and the severity of the pain may also start to vary. Other symptoms of FM can include:

  • fatigue (tiredness);
  • trouble sleeping;
  • memory problems or the inability to think clearly; and
  • mood disorders such as depression.

Symptoms, and the severity of symptoms, will vary from person to person. If you have FM, you may also have other health conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), migraine headaches, and more. For more information, visit BC Women’s Hospital - Fibromyalgia and The Arthritis Society - Fibromyalgia.

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), also called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), is now recognized as a medical condition. ME/CFS does not have a single cause. It usually occurs after having an infection, normally a viral infection. More research is still being done to learn about the condition. At this point, a diagnosis is based on the symptoms you describe to your health care provider, and by ruling out other conditions which could be causing these symptoms. In order to be diagnosed with ME/CFS, symptoms must be present for at least 6 months in adults and 3 months in children.

The main symptom of ME/CFS is fatigue (tiredness) following physical activity (post-exertion), or fatigue to a point that it is disabling. The fatigue can be severe enough to interrupt activities and relationships with others. Other symptoms can include:

  • malaise (feeling generally unwell);
  • flu-like symptoms;
  • sleep problems;
  • pain;
  • memory or other cognitive problems;
  • chemical sensitivities or intolerance; and
  • your body may not function normally.

Symptoms, and the severity of symptoms, will vary from person to person. Some people may recover completely from ME/CFS, while others do not. For more information, visit BC Women’s Hospital - Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Symptom Management

Since both FM and ME/CFS have similar symptoms, they also have similar management therapies. The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms such as pain and fatigue, as well as other conditions such as depression that may develop as a result of these syndromes. For more information, and to find services and resources to help you, visit BC Women’s - Hospital Resources.

Last Reviewed: July 2015

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