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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS): a 20th century illness?

  [ 46 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
By Wessely S • • February 25, 1997

The chronic fatigue syndrome has become the fin de siecle
illness, now getting similar attention to that of
neurasthenia, which dominated medical thinking at the turn of
the century. Myalgic encephalomyelitis was an early term
introduced in the United Kingdom in 1957 for this state, but
it had little or no public or professional prominence. Until
then "chronic fatigue had become invisible", with "no name, no
known etiology, no case illustrations or clinical accounts in
the medical textbook, no ongoing research activity--nothing to
relate it to current medical knowledge".

The reconstruction of
chronic fatigue began in the mid-1980s, with the emergence of
"chronic Epstein-Barr virus syndrome", which was later
converted to chronic fatigue syndrome. The former term, which
first emerged in the mid-1980s, is now regarded as a misnomer
and should be abandoned. In the popular American literature
the term "chronic fatigue and immune deficiency syndrome" is
preferred by the most active of the patient lobbies, while
myalgic encephalomyelitis continues to be the usual label in
the United Kingdom. The relevant research linking chronic
fatigue syndrome with somatization is reviewed in this
article. Understanding the nature of somatization can still
shed some light on the meaning of chronic fatigue at the end
of the 20th century.

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