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Chronic Fatigue is Not Hypochondria: New Blood Test is Promising for Diagnostic Evidence

  [ 22 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
By By: Dr. H. James Day, M.D. • • July 1, 1995

It could take years for the initial study of approximately one thousand patients to be completed, but chances we good that the blood test developed by Dr. Roben Suhadolnik, a professor of biochemistry at Temple University School of Medicine, will provide definitive "proof'for the presence (or absence) of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

That should be a relief to patients who have CFS. Collecting disability will be much simpler than it is currently (both insurers and Social Security demand evidence). And, just as importantly, a patient will no longer suffer the stigmatizing experience of being told his/her symptoms are "all in your head."

Despite the fact that CFS is an extremely debilitating disease, and most of the general public has heard of it, there are still physicians who do not believe the illness exists.

This is tragic for both patients and the profession. It particularly saddens me for the profession, because refusal to believe patients who describe symptoms so blatantly abnormal seems unsympathetic in the extreme.

One of the other characteristics of CFS is that the fatigue is "out of character" for those who contract it. It may also happen suddenly, so there is a marked difference between how patients felt before the onset of the sickness, and how they feel after it.

One patient of mine, a woman in her thirties, had always been exceedingly active. She got up at 5 a.m., put in a 10 to 12 hour workday as a pharmaceutical sales representative, and took care of her one-year-old at home. When she started to feel the symptoms of CFS, she spent months suffering from exhaustion, memory loss, back pain, headaches and clumsiness (she even got lost on her way to a doctor she'd visited for years). As the illness progressed, she was forced to go to bed at 8 p.m. and take three hour-and-a-half naps, every day. Her work life was lost to her illness. After three months of treatment, she was able to stay up until 10 p.m., not take naps, and, while she says she's not "100%," she is closer to that than she ever thought was possible.

The research now under way by Professor Suhadolnik will measure the protein levels and activity of various enzymes in the 2-5A antiviral host defense system from patients with chronic fatigue syndrome against those of health controls. These measurements will then be correlated with clinical status for the disease by using a central functional diagnostic data base.

It is hoped that an objective standard will be distilled from the results of this study. This standard would let us use a blood test (searching for the presence of immune system activators) to diagnose CFS conclusively.

Knowing for certain which illness a patient has, will not only save him or her from the stigma of "hypochondriac," it will enable a treatment program to truly commence. I, for one, look forward to the clinical results of this important new research. If positive, it will yield a major advance in the struggle to assist and treat those with this troubling and debilitating illness.

Editor's note: Dr. H. James Day is a nationally acclaimed hematologist and oncologist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of CFS. He is Chief of Hematology at Abington Memorial Hospital, and Professor of Medicine at Temple University School of Medicine.

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