Chronic fatigue syndrome is a physical, not psychological malady, study shows

July 11, 2016 Providence Health Team

Chronic fatigue syndrome has a microbiological signature, a new study shows. The finding gives support to the idea that chronic fatigue syndrome, which has no clear cause and no widely accepted treatment, is a physical illness and not a psychological condition.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by extreme fatigue. People who suffer with the syndrome may have difficulty carrying out simple routine activities.

What researchers found

A research team from Cornell University found differences in the biological diversity of what they call “gut bacteria” between people who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome and those who don’t.

The researchers studied bacteria and blood markers in stool samples taken from 48 people diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and compared them with samples from a set of healthy subjects.

They found evidence that inflammatory molecules had migrated into the bloodstream of chronic fatigue sufferers. And they found subjects with chronic fatigue syndrome had less diverse populations of microbacteria than the control subjects. That showed a microbial imbalance, or dysbiosis, in those diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome.

“The cause of ME/CFS is unknown, but gut dysbiosis could be contributing to some of the symptoms and their severity,” the researchers said.

Symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome

A challenge in understanding chronic fatigue syndrome is that the chief symptom—tiredness—is accompanied by other symptoms, but these vary from person to person.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the symptoms include:

  • Extreme exhaustion
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty remembering and concentrating
  • Joint pain, without redness or swelling
  • Persistent muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Tender lymph nodes in the neck or armpit
  • Sore throat

The syndrome may also involve allergies, irritable bowels, chills, altered vision and depression, the agency says.

If you have symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, discuss them with your health care provider. You can find a Providence provider here.

Further reading

The study, “Reduced diversity and altered composition of the gut microbiome in individuals with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome,” was published in the journal Microbiome.

The CDC has considerable information about chronic fatigue syndrome on its website.

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