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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Health Center

CDC: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome 'Real'

Health Officials Call on Doctors and Public to Take Disease Seriously
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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 "real" diseases.

"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.

Common Problem

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 CDC.

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 nodes.

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.

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