Note: This article includes our follow-up suggestions regarding its implications for families in which a mother is diagnosed with CFS.
Mothers of adolescents diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) were 5.3 times more likely to report fatigue, and 8.4 times more likely to report depression than mothers of healthy adolescents, according to a cross-section study conducted by physicians at Utrecht University Medical Center in the Netherlands and reported in the June 2006 issue of the journal Pediatrics. Mean overall statistics indicate the CFS-patient mothers differed from mothers of healthy youngsters “on all measurements of fatigue and fatigue-associated symptoms, including sleep.” And 9 of the 40 CFS-patient mothers (roughly 22 percent) “fulfilled CDC criteria for CFS.” Importantly, no such association was found for the fathers of the CFS and healthy adolescent study cohorts. Overall, the study seems to add a piece to the body of knowledge regarding the etiology of CFS, while also generating a host of new issues to be investigated. The findings expand upon those of other studies, including for example a major twin study “confirming the familial aggregation of CFS and suggesting that genes may play a role,” and CFS “subjects’ reports of illness in first degree relatives,” suggesting that relatives of patients with CFS had significantly higher rates of CFS than relatives of patients “with another chronic illness.” The authors suggest their study may be the first to discriminate between the incidence of CFS symptoms in CFS subjects’ mothers and fathers. And they conclude that “the clustering of symptoms in mother and child suggests genetic transfer and gene-environment interaction.” Specifically, it “may point to a gene-environment interaction in which the child not only inherits the genetic characteristics of the mother, but these maternal characteristics also function as environment factors for the child.” Study Design The study involved 40 adolescents diagnosed with CFS according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria, and their mothers and fathers; as well as a healthy control cohort of 36 adolescents and their mothers and fathers. The groups were closely matched for gender composition, number of siblings, ages (12 to 18, average age 16), and intact families. All completed Checklist Individual Strength (CIS) questionnaires regarding fatigue, Symptom Checklist-90 questionnaires covering fatigue-associated symptoms and psychopathology, and various other measurement tools. For more information on this study, see the original article “Mirrored Symptoms in Mother and Child With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,” by Elise M. van de Putte, MD, et al., in the June 2006 issue of the journal Pediatrics, at http://pediatrics.aappublications.org What Does This Mean For You?
- Families in which the mother suffers from CFS should be alert to symptoms of CFS in their teenaged and young adult children, as the genetic component and interaction with a CFS sufferer may combine to bring on symptoms earlier among children who are susceptible.
- Many symptoms of CFS, such as fatigue, sleep problems, and depression can be maked or mimicked by normal teenage behaviors and lifestyles. Knowing that CFS may be genetic can lead to earlier identification, diagnosis, and treatment to improve outcomes and quality of life for the family.
- Patients need to be aware that the symptoms manifested by the mother may increase the symptoms of the teenager through their interactions. The additional physical and emotional stress of CFS in a parent may accentuate the symptoms in the child, in both the short and long term.