CDC: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome 'Real'
Health Officials Call on Doctors and Public to Take Disease Seriously
Nov. 3, 2006 -- Chronic fatigue syndrome -- long doubted as a
legitimate illness by many and largely ignored by the drug industry -- got a
boost from the federal government today.
Buoyed by a spate of recent scientific findings tying the disorder to
possible genetic and physiological causes, CDC officials said they want chronic
fatigue syndrome to join the ranks of
"The science has progressed," says Julie Gerberding, MD, director of
the CDC, which today began a campaign to raise awareness of the disease among
the general public and doctors.
"We are committed to improving awareness that this is a real
disease," Gerberding says.
In this effort, the CDC also released brief guidelines pushing physicians to
consider chronic fatigue syndrome in symptomatic patients when no other
physical or psychiatric explanations can be found.
The guidelines urge the use of moderate exercise, diet modification, and
medical treatment for relief of individual symptoms like headache, sore
throat, and sleep problems.
Studies estimate as many as 1 million Americans suffer from the disease.
Fewer than 20% of those with the disease have been diagnosed, according to the
Chronic fatigue syndrome is defined as severe fatigue -- not relieved with
rest -- that lasts six months or longer, and reduces the patient's ability to
do usual daily activities.
Other symptoms include pain in the muscles and joints, problems with memory
and concentration, headaches, unrefreshing sleep, sore throat, and tender lymph
The disorder has been cited as a major cause of absenteeism and lost work
productivity, with the cost running in the billions of dollars.
Hard to Pin Down
Still, there is still no lab test, scan, or examination that can reveal
chronic fatigue syndrome. It is diagnosed by a patient's history of illness,
and after eliminating other conditions.
Also, there is no drug to cure it. Treatment focuses on bringing some relief
from symptoms and the return of normal function.
"There's no diagnostic test, no blood test," says Nancy Klimas, MD,
a chronic fatigue researcher at the University of Miami, in explaining the
medical community's long frustration with the disease. "These are hard
patients, and medical management these days has to be done in six minutes, nine
minutes -- and that's not going to happen with these patients. These patients
slow your day down."
"Historically it's been the lack of credibility of this illness that's
been the major stumbling block," she adds.
Fight for Legitimacy
American medical history is rife with examples of diseases not deemed
"real" until their physical cause was found.
Depression, long ignored and stigmatized, quickly
found legitimacy when researchers realized imbalanced neurotransmitters were
more to blame than bad parenting or
a lack of personal fortitude.
Now, it appears chronic fatigue syndrome is poised for such a graduation.