A new study, which has identified blood markers in patients with severe symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), could lead to a diagnostic test and treatment for the little understood disorder.
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine analyzed blood samples from 192 individuals diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and a control group of 392 healthy people.
They found that people with severe symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome showed an elevation of 17 immune system signaling molecules, known as cytokines, which often trigger inflammation. The findings indicate that inflammation is an important factor in the often baffling array of symptoms presented by those suffering from CFS.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Although more than a million people in the United States suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, also called myalgic encephalomyelitis, no test currently exists to diagnose it and no treatments are reliably effective. For reasons not well understood, three-quarters of CFS patients are women.
In the new study, the cytokine leptin, which is secreted by fat tissue and is an active pro-inflammatory substance, was linked to disease severity. Because leptin is more prevalent in women’s blood than in men’s, the finding could shed light on the gender disparity.
“What is at stake here is ‘proof of concept’ that the disease is real,” said lead author Dr. Jose G. Montoya at Stanford University School of Medicine in California, in an email to Reuters, adding, “Patients have been humiliated, ostracized, and ignored.”
The manifestations of chronic fatigue syndrome can be maddeningly elusive, ranging from flu-like symptoms, cognitive problems, and insomnia to food and light sensitivities. But its primary symptom is one of debilitating fatigue, even after only mild exertion.
“Chronic fatigue syndrome can turn a life of productive activity into one of dependency and desolation,” said Dr. Montoya, in a university statement. “I have seen the horrors of this disease, multiplied by hundreds of patients. It’s been observed and talked about for 3 years now, sometimes with the onus of being described as a psychological condition. But chronic fatigue syndrome is by no means a figment of the imagination. This is real.”