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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Health Center

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CFS Linked to Childhood Trauma

Study Shows Sexual or Emotional Abuse May Be Risk Factor for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Childhood Trauma and CFS continued...

The researchers also tested all participants for levels of the hormone cortisol, which is associated with stress and the so-called "fight or flight" response.

Low cortisol levels may indicate that the body does not respond to stress normally, CFS researcher William Reeves, MD, of the CDC tells WebMD.

Reeves and colleagues found reduced cortisol levels in the CFS patients who had experienced childhood traumas, but not in CFS patients who did not report early-life exposure to trauma.

This suggests that early trauma may "rewire" the brain in a way that makes people more vulnerable to developing chronic fatigue syndrome in adulthood, he says, adding that the finding could have implications for diagnosis and treatment.

"We know that cognitive behavioral therapy works for many people with CFS, and this is especially true for people who have a history of childhood trauma," Reeves says.

Viral Triggers Likely

While 60% of CFS patients had a history of childhood trauma, Komaroff points out that 40% did not and that a significant number of the participants who had experienced severe childhood trauma did not develop chronic fatigue syndrome.

"The danger is that people will jump to the conclusion that early-life trauma causes CFS even though this study showed that a large number of people with CFS had no history of trauma," he says.

Komaroff believes, as many CFS researchers do, that multiple viruses trigger the disorder in people who are vulnerable due to genetics or other reasons.

"I don't believe that any single virus is the cause of CFS in the way that HIV is absolutely critical to causing AIDS," he says.

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