Small adrenal glands in chronic fatigue syndrome: a preliminary computertomography study.

No inclusive or satisfactory biomedical explanation for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has as yet been forwarded. Recent research suggests that a dysregulated hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) may be contributory, and in particular that there may be diminished forward drive and adrenal under-stimulation. In this preliminary study we wished to examine a cohort of CFS patients in whom evidence for such hypofunctioning was found. Our aim was to establish whether these patients had altered adrenal gland size.

Patients were recruited from a fatigue clinic. Those who fulfilled the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) criteria underwent a 1 microgram adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) stimulation test, a test of adrenal gland functioning. Eight subjects (five females, three males) with a subnormal response to this test underwent a computer tomography (CT) adrenal gland assessment. Measurements were compared with those from a group of 55 healthy subjects. The right and left adrenal gland bodies were reduced by over 50% in the CFS subjects indicative of significant adrenal atrophy in a group of CFS patients with abnormal endocrine parameters. This is the first study to use imaging methods to measure adrenal gland size in CFS. It is a limitation of this study that a selected CFS sample was employed. A future larger study would optimally employ an unselected cohort of CFS patients. This study has implications not only for the elucidation of CFS pathophysiology, but also for possible therapeutic strategies.


Psychoneuroendocrinology 1999 Oct;24(7):759-68.

Department of Psychiatry, Trinity College Dublin Medical School, St. James’s,Hospital, Ireland.

PMID: 10451910, UI: 99381217

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