CDC: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome 'Real'
Health Officials Call on Doctors and Public to Take Disease Seriously
WebMD News Archive
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.
Recent scientific findings have linked the problem to abnormalities in the
body's autonomic nervous system, which controls blood pressure, heart rate, and
Meanwhile, genomic studies are beginning to suggest that sufferers carry
genes leading their bodies to overreact to stress. In such people, significant stressors
like trauma or a major infection could trigger an overresponse that takes the
form of chronic fatigue.
"I'm not talking about minor events like public speaking," says
William Reeves, MD, director of the CDC's chronic viral diseases branch.
A study published in the BMJ in September found 12% of patients who
had serious infections wound up with chronic fatigue symptoms six months
Other studies have suggested the illness stems from some kind of
hyper-reactive immune system -- easily switched into action but hard to turn
While the evidence is not definitive, it goes against long-held notions that
chronic fatigue syndrome is a figment of patients' imaginations, says Anthony
Komaroff, MD, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
"In my view ... that debate should be over," he says.
Still, theories about a cause remain theories.
Reeves acknowledges that chronic fatigue syndrome is highly variable and
unlikely to come with a simple explanation. "There may be more than
The CDC wants physicians to understand how to diagnose chronic fatigue
syndrome, Gerberding says, "but more importantly be able to validate and
understand the incredible suffering."