March is National Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Awareness Month
By Vicki Bennington (Health Center correspondent)
Educating consumers and the medical profession about the nature and impact of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also referred to as “The Thief of Vitality,” is the emphasis of National Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Awareness Month.
The National Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia Association uses March to address the issues surrounding CFS and related disorders.
CFS affects an estimated 800,000 American adults and an unknown number of children and adolescents. Although much objective evidence of an underlying biological disorder involving the brain and immune system has been documented in medical literature, there is as yet no diagnostic test and no cure.
The National Institute of Health recognizes CFS as does the Center for Disease Control, Food and Drug Administration and the Social Security Administration as a serious, often disabling illness. It is marked by unrelenting exhaustion, muscle pain, cognitive disorders that patients call “brain fog” and a myriad of other physical symptoms.
Some patients are bedridden, while others consider themselves fortunate if they can work or attend school at least part time, since any exertion typically worsens their symptoms. Many are denied disability insurance benefits because doctors and employers say they believe the person is lazy or has a mental illness rather than a serious physical condition.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome research is being done on many fronts – from cardiology to immunology to endocrinology, but the disease remains a mystery. Even the most-promising treatments seem to work only for some patients and improve their lives by only small degrees.
A new study by DePaul University estimates CFS at approximately 422 cases per 100,000 people in the U.S. This means as many as 800,000 people nationwide suffer from the condition. Research has shown that CFS is about three times as common in women as men.
CFS has been shown to affect people of all races, ages and socioeconomic groups. Symptoms may include fatigue, substantial impairment of short-term memory or concentration, sore throat, tender lymph nodes, muscle and joint pain, headaches, unrefreshing sleep and fatigue lasting more than 24 hours following exertion.
CFS is diagnosed when these symptoms persist for more than six months and cannot be explained by any other medical or psychological condition.
Many veterans of the Persian Gulf War have a symptom complex that has been determined by scientists to be virtually identical to CFS.
The clinical course of CFS varies widely. Some patients recover to the point that they can resume work and other activities, even though they continue to experience symptoms.
Treatment of CFS is aimed at symptom relief. No single therapy exists to help all patients with CFS.
Only one drug, Ampligen, is nearing the end of the FDA’s approval process. More than 100 patients are receiving Ampligen either by paying for it themselves or through enrollment in an FDA-required randomized study of the drug.
Despite an intensive decade-long search, the cause of CFS remains unknown. Many different viruses, bacterium, toxins and psychological causes have been considered and rejected. However, the search continues.
Genetic and environmental factors may play a role in developing and/or prolonging the illness, although increased research is needed.
The name “chronic fatigue syndrome” was coined in 1988 by a group of scientists. Most patients and researchers say they believe the name to be unacceptable as it focuses too heavily on only one easily misunderstood symptom of the illness. About 30 years ago, multiple sclerosis patients were subject to this type of stigma as people then called MS “hysterical paralysis.”