Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Gaining Legitimacy

Author:  Kaul Bhavika
Date:  July 2007

Chronic fatigue syndrome is finally gaining credibility now that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has released studies linking the condition to genetic mutations and abnormalities in gene expression.

For years, individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome struggled to convince others that their symptoms were real and although some scientists still remain critical of the CDC's research, most people agree that the syndrome exists.

"People with chronic fatigue syndrome are as sick and as functionally impaired as someone with AIDS, with breast cancer, with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease," said Dr. William Reeves, the lead expert on the illness at the CDC.

Patients suffering from the illness claim that the term "fatigue" does not even begin to describe their illness. Donna Flowers, a physical therapist from California who suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, said that the exhaustion was unlike anything she has ever faced.

"I slept for 12 to 14 hours a day but still felt sleep-deprived," said Flowers. "I couldn't think straight, and I could barely read. I couldn't get the energy to go out the door. I thought I was doomed. I wanted to die."

Chronic fatigue syndrome was identified in the 1980s and causes fatigue as well as sleep disorders among other symptoms. Studies have also shown that patients experience abnormalities in the nervous and immune systems, cognitive functioning, stress response pathways and other major biological functions. Although researchers have yet to find the cause of the illness, many predict that it is ultimately a result of multiple factors. Studies have linked the onset of the syndrome to bouts of Lyme disease, mononucleosis, Ross River virus and other infectious diseases.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is defined as six months of unexplained fatigue as well as four out of the following eight persistent symptoms: impaired memory, sore throat, tender lymph nodes, muscle pain, joint pain, headaches, disturbed sleeping patterns and post-exercise malaise. Based on this definition, the CDC estimates that more than one million Americans suffer from this illness and although the research is still in its preliminary stages, it has the potential to shed light on a malady afflicting over a million Americans.

By Bhavika Kaul