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Possible Clues to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Inflammation may play a role, small study suggests
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All signs of neuro-inflammation were then stacked up against chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms.

The result? While nerve cell inflammation was found to be "widespread" throughout the brains of chronic fatigue syndrome patients, no such inflammation was observed among the healthy study participants.

Vernon said the study also found a graded relationship between levels of inflammation and the severity of disease.

"The higher the inflammation, the more severe the patients' symptoms," she noted.

The study authors further found that neuro-inflammation spiked in patterns that directly correlated with chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms, ratcheting up in brain regions that are central to thought-processes typically impaired by the condition.

That said, Nakatomi's team did not establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship between brain changes and chronic fatigue syndrome. And the finding does not make clear whether such brain inflammation actually precedes the onset of the condition or occurs as a result.

However, the authors suggested that their work should be viewed as a "proof of concept" that brain scanning could be a useful way to screen for chronic fatigue syndrome, to both diagnose the disease and assess disease severity on a case-by-case basis.

Dr. Jim Pagel, an associate clinical professor at the University of Colorado Medical School System, said the study findings make sense, and might be most helpful in the context of future research.

"There's no question that chronic fatigue syndrome is a real diagnosis. It's just a question as to how do you actually make that diagnosis? What is the definition? What are the criteria?" said Pagel, who is also director of the Sleep Disorders Center of Southern Colorado, in Pueblo, Colo.

"And for that I wouldn't say that this work ties PET scans to a clear method for diagnosis, or to any clear treatment approach," he said.

"I really don't think this means that everybody should go out and get a PET scan to diagnose [chronic fatigue syndrome]," Pagel said. "But at the same time, it doesn't surprise me at all there would be a potential level of nerve inflammation in certain groupings of people with [the condition]. It certainly fits with what we know. And I think this finding will be useful as the research continues."

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