Chronic fatigue syndrome is a controversial medical condition characterized by extreme fatigue, which may last for more than six months. Here is a brief overview about its causes.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a disorder or a group of disorders characterized by persistent fatigue for a period of at least six months. This condition may be accompanied with other symptoms, like muscle pain, cognitive difficulties like impaired memory, insomnia, depression, poor immune response, and cardiac problems. Being the characteristic feature of this condition, fatigue is worsened by physical or mental exertion, and cannot be relieved by rest.
Fatigue is a common symptom associated with many diseases. So it is very important to rule out the possibility of other diseases, before zeroing in on chronic fatigue syndrome. As there is no specific method to diagnose this condition, tests should be done to find out whether the symptoms are caused by any other medical condition.
There are many controversies regarding the name of the condition, its definition, causes, and treatment. In 1994, an international committee of researchers convened a meeting of experts, and drafted a definition. According to these experts, the symptoms of the affected person must come under the following criteria, if his/her condition has to be diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome.
- The first condition is that the fatigue must last for a period of at least six months, and the possibility of other diseases are ruled out.
- The second condition is that the affected person must experience four or more of the following symptoms concurrently. The symptoms are sore throat, problems with memory and concentration, muscle pain, swollen lymph nodes, a different pattern of headache, joint pain without redness or swelling, and discomfort after some kind of exertion.
- The symptoms must be persistent or recurring during the period of illness (six months or more), and should not precede this period of fatigue.
Till date, no specific reason has been identified as a cause of chronic fatigue syndrome. Several possible causes, like action of infectious agents and certain physiological and psychological conditions, have been suggested by experts. This disorder could be due to one or more of such causes. Current research is more concentrated on the role of the immune system, the nervous system, and the endocrine system.
It is also said that genetic and environmental factors play a key role in causing this disease. Though there is no specific primary cause for this disorder, some experts believe that a convergence of the following factors can lead to this disorder:
- Genetic variations may play an important role in causing chronic fatigue syndrome. A study of people affected with the condition, revealed that there were alterations in some specific genes involved in immune function and communication between the cells. The link between this medical condition and genetic variations is still not proved.
- Some experts project brain abnormalities as the reason behind this disorder. According to them, abnormal levels of certain chemicals, controlled by the nervous system is responsible for the symptoms caused by chronic fatigue syndrome. Important functions, like sleep and response to stress and depression, are controlled by the chemicals produced by the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis. This factor is also not proved.
- Some suggestions favor a hyper-reactive immune system as the cause for this condition. Their contention is that irregularities of the immune system can cause this disorder. The immune system can be over-reactive and under-reactive at the same time. While some symptoms are caused by an over-reactive system, some are the resultants of an under-reactive immune system. There is no evidence to prove this hypothesis.
- It is also suggested that this disorder could be the result of some viral infections, but it is observed that only a few patients show signs and symptoms of viral infection. This contention is based on the observations that the onset of this disease is with flu-like symptoms, and there are reports of cluster outbreaks of chronic fatigue syndrome in people living in a particular area or household. There is no conclusive evidence to prove the role of any infectious agent in causing this disease.
Apart from theories explained above, several other possible causes have been put forward. They include iron deficiency anemia, low blood pressure, autoimmune disease causing inflammation of nervous system pathways, history of allergies, and depression.
Studies show that this disorder can affect people of all ages and from all walks of life. It is more common in people in the age group of 40 to 50, especially women. Chronic fatigue syndrome can affect children too, and teenagers are more likely to develop this disorder. Early diagnosis and treatment are very important for recovery.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.