New Research Sheds Light on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome, recently renamed myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), is a complex disorder that affects about one million Americans. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ME/CFS can strike anyone but most often occurs among middle-aged Caucasian women. 

Chronic fatigue is often mistaken for ME/CFS; yet, the two conditions are considerably different. While chronic fatigue can be long-term like ME/CFS, extreme tiredness is usually the main symptom and  generally stems from stress, nutritional deficiencies, insomnia, overexertion, depression or another condition. The typical ME/CFS patient experiences a variety of symptoms that can take a toll on her/his health for decades. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms include: 
  • Disrupted, poor quality sleep
  • Extreme fatigue and general malaise after mental or physical exertion that lasts 24 hours or longer   
  • Difficulty concentrating and remembering information
  • Muscle aches, joint pain, headaches
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in neck or underarms
  • Sore throat
Because ME/CFS lacks a specific test to diagnose, and its symptoms mimic those of other conditions, doctors often conduct a variety of screenings to rule out other illnesses before settling on an ME/CFS diagnosis. To complicate matters, a handful of conditions often occur with ME/CFS such as: For years, the only possible cause linked to ME/CFS was stress. However, three recently published studies have shed new light on potential triggers.  

  • Early menopause – Scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found a connection between early menopause and ME/CFS. It is unknown if ME/CFS causes gynecological problems that lead to early menopause or if unrecognized gynecological issues raise the risk of ME/CFS. Either way, data suggested that a high percentage of women who have had a gynecological surgery or surgery-induced menopause or struggle with pelvic pain, various menstruation problems or endometriosis seemed to develop ME/CFS during middle age more often than women who do not. Scientists also pointed out that a gynecological connection to ME/CFS would help explain why the majority of people with ME/CFS are women. If you are a woman with a history of gynecological problems, you can work with your MDVIP-affiliated doctor to discuss ME/CFS signs and symptoms you may be experiencing. Your doctor can help diagnose and manage ME/CFS and coordinate your care with appropriate specialists as necessary.  
  • Brain abnormalities – Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine discovered brain differences between people with and without ME/CFS. For instance, ME/CFS patients have less white-matter content, i.e., long cable-like nerve tracts that convey information from one area of the brain to another compared to people without ME/CFS. This finding was not surprising, as ME/CFS is associated with widespread, chronic inflammation of the brain, which can damage white matter. Further, another study identified an abnormal appearance of the right arcuate fasciculus, a particular section of white-matter nerve tract  in the right hemisphere of the brain that connects the frontal and temporal lobes.     
  • Inherited virus – Investigators at University of South Florida believe the human herpesvirus (HHV-6) may be the cause of some ME/CFS cases. HHV-6 is common virus that most people contract by the age of two, causing roseola, an infection associated with fevers, mild upper respiratory distress and a pinkish-red, flat or raised rash. Once a child recovers from roseola, the HHV-6 virus becomes dormant but can reactivate during bouts of immunosuppression or aging. However, while the virus is latent, it integrates into chromosomes, which can be inherited by future generations. When the chromosome-integrated version of HHV-6 is passed from a parent to a child, it's referred to as CIHHV-6. According to researchers, less than one percent of the U.S. population is CIHHV-6 positive. And while these people appear healthy, some struggle with ME/CFS-like symptoms, (known as inherited human herpesvirus 6 syndrome) and if they come in contact with another strain of HHV-6, their immune systems are often not strong enough to fight it. The good news is that patients with ME/CFS due to CIHHV-6 or inherited human herpesvirus 6 syndrome seem to benefit from antiviral medications. Therefore, talk with your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms such as sleep disturbances, fatigue, pain and difficulty concentrating, as it is possible that prescription medication might help.

Currently there is no cure for ME/CFS, but there are some steps you can take that may help ease its symptoms; for instance:

  • Track your energy/fatigue levels – Keep a diary of what days of the week and times of the day you feel more or less fatigued to assist  you in determining a pattern of energy levels. This can help you adjust your schedule to be most effective at accomplishing work, school and household responsibilities.
  • Control your energy levels – Learn to pace yourself. Avoid overexertion  when you feel more energetic, as it can lead to exhaustion, requiring days to recover. Studies have suggested that light exercise like stretching, walking and swimming can help alleviate some symptoms and raise energy levels. Further, a healthy diet consisting of plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products can be of more value to a ME/CFS patient than processed foods.
  • Follow the basic principles for improved sleep – Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature. Make sure you have a good mattress and comfortable pillow. If you cannot fall asleep within 15 minutes, find an activity that can help you feel sleepy like reading or meditating.  Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and tobacco hours before your bedtime can also help you sleep better.

If you are experiencing symptoms of ME/CFS, your MDVIP-affiliated physician can work with you to get to the root of your symptoms and recommend next steps. If you have been diagnosed with ME/CFS, your doctor can help you manage the condition, treat other conditions associated with ME/CFS and coordinate your care with specialists. Don’t have an MDVIP-affiliated doctor? Find one near you by clicking here.

13 Comments
alan robert day
Apr 17th, 2017
I am a veteran who has had every single symptom listed on the CDC website including hormonal imbalances since military discharge. I only found out what CFS was after one of my previous shipmates told me a fellow sailor that we frequently made team repairs involving ionizing radiation. He told me about CFS and how its the new Agent Orange that the VA ignores. Now I cannot work, my house is foreclosed and the VA just keeps saying "weird." Now my CK levels are rising, with no known cause, and they are doing nothing. I cannot afford to go to a real doctor, and I truly feel like I'm 90 years old and that I am going to die.
I wish I had never been in the military.
Shelia Ammons
Nov 7th, 2016
I have been trying to get an answer for my health for three years and I just get more medacation and i just keep getting more problems I have had three back surgery and two neck i hurt all the time I don't sleep well i am always tired i can't seem to get anything done anymore i fill depressed and should not be please help
Lisa
Sep 20th, 2016
I would love to see you talk about Crps / RSD , a poorly understood, painful disease. This is another rare disorder that many Drs are unwilling to even acknowledge . I think it would be helpful and validating to get information from you on this particular disease
1 Reply
MDVIP
Sep 21st, 2016
Greetings Lisa.

Thank you for your suggestion to cover complex regional pain syndrome and we will take it under consideration as a topic for a future edition of our Living Well newsletter. Again, thank you very much.

In good health,
MDVIP

Stephen
Apr 2nd, 2016
Dr. Jagged Younger made a cutting edge research on CFS.

http://selfhacked.com/2016/03/29/dr-jared-younger-cutting-edge-research-on-cfs-neuroinflammation-pain-and-fatigue/
1 Reply
MDVIP
Apr 4th, 2016
Greetings Stephen,

Thank you very much for sharing this information.

In Good Health,
MDVIP

Terry Hedrick
Sep 24th, 2015
By sources I'm referring to the journal citation, not just the location of the researcher--something that would allow a patient to read the details of the publication. Thank you.
1 Reply
MDVIP
Sep 25th, 2015
Greetings Terry,

Thank you for your interest in our blog. Like most blogs, we try to keep it brief, consumer-friendly and easy to read with minimal technical jargon and casual reference citing. Our information is based on researched information, as opposed to personal opinions. Below is more information on the studies that were cited in the blog. We hope this helps you in your quest to learn more about ME/CFS.

· Early menopause – Scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found a connection between early menopause and ME/CFS.

Based on this study: Roumiana S. Boneva, et al. Early menopause and other gynecologic risk indicators for chronic fatigue syndrome in women. Menopause, 2015.


· Brain abnormalities – Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine discovered brain differences between people with and without ME/CFS.

Based on this information: Stanford University Medical Center. "Brain abnormalities found in chronic fatigue patients." Science Daily. Science Daily, 29 October 2014.


· Inherited virus – Investigators at University of South Florida believe the human herpesvirus (HHV-6) may be the cause of some ME/CFS cases.

Based on this study: Shara N. Pantry, et al. Persistent human herpesvirus-6 infection in patients with an inherited form of the virus. Journal of Medical Virology, 2013.

In Good Health,
MDVIP

Terry Hedrick
Sep 24th, 2015
I appreciate the background info on ME/CFS and the distinction made between it and chronic fatigue. It would have been useful to cite the recent Institute of Medicine report and to give references for the potential causes you are citing. Is this research being done at The Mayo Clinic or just the opinions of the doctors there? I've been tracking the research in this area for years and have only heard of one of the potential causes cited. I'm glad MDVIP takes this illness seriously but please give us your sources.
Terry Hedrick
Sep 24th, 2015
I appreciate the background info on ME/CFS and the distinction made between it and chronic fatigue. It would have been useful to cite the recent Institute of Medicine report and to give references for the potential causes you are citing. Is this research being done at The Mayo Clinic or just the opinions of the doctors there? I've been tracking the research in this area for years and have only heard of one of the potential causes cited. I'm glad MDVIP takes this illness seriously but please give us your sources.
Hema Patel
Sep 22nd, 2015
Excellent!!!
1 Reply
MDVIP
Sep 22nd, 2015
Greetings Hema,

Thank you for your enthusiastic response! We’re glad to see that you approve so highly. Please let us know if we can provide any more information on the subject.

In Good Health,
MDVIP

Carolyn J. Snyder
Sep 18th, 2015
What great and interesting information.. So much about the human body we don't know, but info such as this makes us so aware of how many possibilities of what could be going on.
1 Reply
MDVIP
Sep 22nd, 2015
Greetings Carolyn,

Thank you for taking time to add to the conversation about chronic fatigue syndrome. Feel free to let us know if you need more details.

In Good Health,
MDVIP

Sarah
Sep 16th, 2015
Congratulations to MDVIP for pointing out the difference between chronic fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome. As you point out, they are vastly different. And, sadly, for most people who have ME/CFS, it's a life sentence of disabling symptoms. Patients suffer even more because of misunderstanding by many doctors (and by nearly everyone else). The stigma that patients are just lazy or "crazy" makes it hard to even reach out for help. Thank you for making a small dent in the ignorance that makes having this disease doubly hellish.
1 Reply
MDVIP
Sep 22nd, 2015
Greetings Sarah,

We appreciate you sharing your insight into people living with chronic fatigue syndrome. By contributing to the conversation, you are helping people realize that their medical condition is valid and others to empathize with those living with the condition.

In Good Health,
MDVIP


James Henry
Sep 16th, 2015
?
Ian F. Turner
Sep 16th, 2015
Have your Thyroid checked out (blood test) over active = big time fatigue.....amazing how many "things" are affected by an "over active thyroid"....have this possible issue addressed.
1 Reply
MDVIP
Sep 22nd, 2015
Greetings Ian,

Thank you for taking time to add to the conversation with information about thyroid issues. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can also cause a myriad of health concerns. We’re glad to hear your doctor was able to address your issue.

In Good Health,
MDVIP


Danielle
Sep 16th, 2015
Another Avenue to explore is adrenal fatigue / adrenal burnout. Read Dr. Wilson's book titled Adrenal Fatigue. He is the expert from what I have been able to find. I've been working with one of his trained peers on a program to help me through it. There are a lot of nuances and you need to be committed to your health, but I've seen a huge improvement in 6 months and I have a ways to go. But after nearly 20+ years if no answers, I finally feel like I'm getting somewhere. I also found a doctor who is open to my alternative/holistic treatments and who works with me accordingly. Good luck on your health journey.
1 Reply
MDVIP
Sep 22nd, 2015
Greetings Danielle,

Thank you for writing in about your journey with adrenal fatigue, which just like chronic fatigue syndrome, can also lead to other health concerns and diminish your quality of life. We’re glad to hear that you’re on the road to a healthier life.

In Good Health,
MDVIP


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