Study Shows Many Physicians Still Misdiagnose Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

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A recent study from the University of Newcastle shows some physicians misdiagnose Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) as a psychological disorder rather than a physical condition. The study is published in the current issue of the Journal of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, (Vol. 8, Numbers ¾ 2001).

In a review of five published surveys, E. Stein M.D., FRCP, found that of approximately 2,050 physicians, 10 to 54% are uncomfortable with the concept of CFS as a clinical condition, and as few as 30% of physicians were willing to diagnose CFS in patients meeting the established criteria.

The physicians surveyed cite the lack of specific diagnostic tests and a clear definition of CFS as cause for not diagnosing CFS. Four separate definitions are currently in use, but patients continue to report symptoms that are not included within these definitions. The surveys also suggest that some doctors refrain from diagnosing CFS because they fear controversy or scrutiny from fellow practitioners. There is also evidence that pressure from health service providers for rapid diagnosis and treatment of patients places additional stress on doctors, resulting in premature and simplistic conclusions.

Other diagnosing difficulties that arise for physicians include current medical models that direct them to examine patients for signs and symptoms of disease, and then make a diagnosis followed by treatment. Diseases such as CFS are non-specific responses to unknown or multiple stressors, and do not easily fit into any particular model. Up to 80% of patients presenting their case to general practitioners cannot be given a diagnostic label that totally accounts for all their symptoms.

According to Dr. Stein, management of a patient’s health should be focused on maintaining healthy body function and the progressive treatment of symptoms. Physicians and patients must share the responsibility for information gathering and the monitoring of progress. The patient’s and physician’s observations should be considered equally critical in the decision-making process toward treatment.

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