Dog tired, people with chronic fatigue syndrome have no answers

For some time now, researchers have been looking for clues to what causes chronic fatigue syndrome. Without knowing what’s behind it, the medical community can’t treat the disorder. The disorder is very real, though, especially to the 25 percent of sufferers that are unemployed or receiving disability benefits. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a family with a wage earner suffering from CFS loses $20,000 every year in earnings. Every year, the CDC says, the U.S. suffers $9 billion of lost productivity because of CFS.

Researchers believed CFS was caused by a virus until a recent study disproved the theory. A new study, however, breaks new ground in our understanding of the condition. The results show that the brains of people with CFS function differently from the brains of people without the syndrome.

Study participants — both with and without CFS — played a card game; for each correct guess, the players received money. The scientists scanned the players’ brains during the game and noted changes in blood flow. In a healthy person, the blood flow to one area of the brain generally increases significantly with a win.

The people with CFS, however, experienced very little change in blood flow, winning or losing. Blood flow changed even less in people with more severe CFS.

But why? The study didn’t go quite that far, but researchers have some ideas. CFS could join the long list of ailments caused by Inflammation of the brain, for example. Additional research is clearly needed to identify the contributing factors.

Nevertheless, the study marks an important shift in CFS research. Before now, brain function was not linked to the disorder.


Alan Olson practices employment law throughout the United States from his offices in New Berlin, Wisconsin. Attorney Olson may be contacted at [email protected] with questions about the information posted here or for advice on long-term disability benefits claims.

Source: The Atlantic, “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Real, Weird, and Mysterious as Ever,” Alice G. Walton, May 2, 2012


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