Skin Offers Clues to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

New Approach May Make It Easier to Diagnose Complicated Disorder By Jennifer Warner, WebMD Medical News, Reviewed By Michael Smith, MD on Thursday, August 26, 2004

The long sought-after physical evidence of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) may be found in the skin, according to a new research study. The study suggests that differences in skin temperature and electrical activity may provide a new way to identify the potentially disabling disorder. CFS causes a variety of common symptoms, such as fever, fatigue, sore throat, headache, muscle weakness, pain, and sleep disturbances, which makes it hard to distinguish it from other ailments.

Researchers estimate that chronic fatigue syndrome affects between 0.5% and 3% of the population, but diagnosing the condition is difficult and somewhat controversial. "There are a number of medical professionals who don't believe CFS exists in the first place," says researcher Hannah Pazderka-Robinson, of the University of Alberta, in a news release. "The problem is both CFS and depression are characterized by very similar profiles. Imagine a patient who approaches a doctor and tells him they feel depressed and tired all the time."

New Proof Offered for CFS Researchers say their study, which appears in the August issue of the International Journal of Psychophysiology, is the first to use electrodermal activity and skin temperature to look at differences between people with chronic fatigue syndrome, those with major depression, and healthy individuals. Electrodermal activity is a measure of electrical activity within the skin and was measured by placing electrodes on each hand. The study showed that people with CFS scored much lower on measures of how well electricity passes through the skin compared with those with depression or healthy individuals. Skin temperatures were also much higher among those with chronic fatigue syndrome than in the other two groups. Researchers say the results suggest that despite sharing similar symptoms with depression, people with CFS can be identified by physiological measures: skin temperature and electrical activity within the skin. They also say the study adds to the growing body of evidence that demonstrates that CFS and depression are distinct disorders with different disease profiles.

SOURCES: Pazderka-Robinson, H. International Journal of Psychophysiology, August 2004; vol 53: pp 171-182. News release, University of Alberta.

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