Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complex disorder that impacts multiple body systems. It is characterized by a profoundly debilitating fatigue lasting six months or more, which can lead to a substantial reduction in the patient’s prior activity levels.

Diagnosing chronic fatigue syndrome is complicated, and the CDC estimates that of the one to four million Americans who suffer from it, only 20% have been diagnosed. Factors that make it difficult to obtain a diagnosis include:

  • Lack of lab tests or biomarkers that can specifically pinpoint CFS;
  • Symptoms, such as fatigue, insomnia, pain and memory issues, that are common to many other illnesses, which requires doctors to rule out all other potential causes;
  • Patients experience periods of “remission”, where they have no symptoms or otherwise appear fine, and;
  • CFS varies greatly in frequency, severity and duration, not only among patients, but among the individual suffering from CFS as well.


The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not have a specific disability listing for chronic fatigue syndrome. However, neither the lack of a disability listing nor the low diagnosis rate means you shouldn’t apply for SSD benefits if you have chronic fatigue syndrome. You may still qualify for SSD benefits if the medical record shows that your CFS prevents you from participating in substantial gainful activity, either in your current position or another position suited for your skills and functional abilities, for 12 months or more.   

Diagnosing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Due to the lack of a specific listing, there is no single set of criteria that your CFS must meet to qualify for SSD benefits. Instead, the team evaluating the application, which includes a physician or psychologist and a disability examiner, will examine the medical evidence to determine the existence, severity and duration of your impairments, as well as the clinical course of the illness and its impact on all affected body systems. Your records should include a detailed medical history, clinical and laboratory findings, both positive and negative, lab reports and any mental status exams.


The CDC requires that four or more of the following specific symptoms must be present on a persistent or recurrent basis for at least six months before diagnosing CFS:

  • Post-exertional malaise lasting more than 24 hours, i.e., periods of fatigue following activities that did not tire you out in the past;
  • Impairment(s) to short-term memory or concentration that causes a substantial reduction in previous levels of occupational, educational, social, or personal activities;
  • Sore throat;
  • Tender cervical or axillary lymph nodes;
  • Muscle pain;
  • Multi-joint pain without joint swelling or redness;
  • Headaches of a new type, pattern, or severity, and;
  • Periods of rest insufficient to eliminate fatigue.


There are other symptoms often associated with CFS which, although they have no set number of occurrences during a specified time period to qualify for a diagnosis, should be included in the medical record to help the disability examiner make a disability determination. Such symptoms may include:

  • Muscle weakness;
  • Disturbed sleep patterns, including insomnia, prolonged sleeping, frequent awakenings, or vivid dreams or nightmares;
  • Visual difficulties, such as trouble focusing, impaired depth perception or eye pain;
  • Feelings of lightheadedness, fainting, dizziness, or increased fatigue with prolonged standing;
  • Respiratory difficulties;
  • Cardiovascular abnormalities;
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort, and;
  • Urinary or bladder problems


Longitudinal clinical records – reports made by your physician detailing your condition over time – are also extremely helpful in assisting the SSA in making a disability determination. These notes can help show the impact CFS has had on your ability to function over time, your response (or lack thereof) to treatment, and your doctor’s opinion on the types of work, if any, you may still perform despite the disease.


Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and SSD Benefits Success Stories

Our office recently helped a client obtain SSD benefits due to chronic fatigue syndrome. One client suffered from fibromyalgia, in addition to several other medical conditions, that combined to markedly limit his functional abilities. This client’s application was denied at every level, until our office stepped in and represented him at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review hearing.  The hearing officer found that his medical condition, in addition to the numerous daily medications he took to treat these conditions, restricted his ability to engage in activities of daily living and to maintain concentration, essential for his ability to work.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Resources

If you suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome there are resources that can help you not only understand the disease, including symptoms, treatment options and living with it day to day, but put you in contact with others for emotional support.

The CFS Knowledge Center includes informational, videos and links to other resources dealing with CFS, including a searchable function to locate support groups. Pro Health also has a searchable function that allows you to locate support groups in your city. If you prefer online support and utilize Facebook, the Chronic Fatigue Support group is active.  

If you need legal assistance applying for SSD benefits and you suffer from CFS, consider the Law Office of Neil H. Good for your legal representation. Call #(847) 577-4476 or complete our online form for a free case evaluation.