For people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), there are a variety of health care professionals (HCPs) to choose for your health care team. Initially, you need to find someone to diagnose your illness and help manage your symptoms. To build your team, you may begin with one HCP as an overseer, perhaps a physician called a general practitioner or primary care physician, or an advanced practice nurse. In the United States, medicine is specialized, so a common approach to managing a multisystem illness like CFS is by using specialists who can be overseen by your choice of HCP who will refer you to these specialists.

Any decisions for referrals to specialists should be made jointly with your health care overseer. Typically, referrals are made based on CFS symptoms, their severity, and how long they have lasted. Severe symptoms, for example, warrant an immediate referral.

Professionals on your team:

  • The general practitioner, primary care physician or advanced practice nurse (also called nurse practitioner) is the first contact person who may diagnose you or refer you to a specialist for tests to rule out other illnesses as part of the diagnostic process. These practitioners maintain your health records and could be called upon to verify your medical condition should you need disability insurance.
  • Neurologists specialize in treating diseases of the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system. They manage CFS symptoms such as migraine headache and pain.
  • Rheumatologists are doctors who specialize in processes that involve pain or movement disorders of joints and soft tissue, which may affect people with multisystem autoimmune diseases, fibromyalgia, and CFS.
  • Pain management specialists are doctors with specialized training in the diagnosis and management of pain.
  • Gastroenterologists are specialists who can assist you with digestive issues common to people with CFS, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Gynecologists are physicians who specialize in women’s health, treating diseases and illnesses that affect the female reproductive organs.
  • Infectious disease specialists are doctors of internal medicine (or, in some cases, pediatrics) who are qualified as experts in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases such a measles, pneumonia, and hepatitis B. They also have additional training in immunology (how the body fights infection).
  • Cardiologists are specialists concerned with the functioning of the heart, blood vessels, and the circulation of the blood through the body.
  • Nutritionists are allied health care professionals who can help you establish a healthy eating plan and give you tips to prepare meals individualized to your body’s needs.
  • Occupational therapists are allied health care professionals who can help you adapt to your environment and show you ways to make activities of daily living—such as housework and personal care—easier, and provide advice on useful aids or equipment.
  • Physical therapists are allied health care professionals who can provide you with advice on exercise, posture, and ways to relieve pain, as well as the use of treatments to maintain joint and muscle movement.
  • Psychologists are allied health care professionals who can teach you different ways of thinking about and coping with CFS.
  • Rehabilitation counselors are allied health care professionals who can help you with employment and retraining issues.
  • Social workers are allied health care professionals who can provide support and help with different aspects of your life that may be affected by your illness, such as your family life, income and housing, and other life problems.

Therapists who provide complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies can be a valuable part of the health care team. CAM represents a group of diverse medical and health care systems and/or practices that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine.

Integrative therapists practice integrative medicine, that is, they combine conventional medicine and CAM treatments for which there is evidence of safety and effectiveness, for example, chiropractic and acupuncture. Once called alternative therapies, the new name reflects the concept that these treatments should be integrated into care rather than be considered an alternative to medical treatment.

Once your team is in place and your symptom management is underway, your health care provider should regularly review how you are faring. The time frame will depend on your needs and how you are managing with your symptoms and treatments.