Those who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome are probably tired of doctors who do not consider it a real disease and who mistakenly assume that the fatigue associated with the condition is just laziness. For the million plus in the U.S. who struggle with this condition, the disease is real and being told that the debilitating symptoms are all in their heads only adds insult to injury. The good news is that researchers may have found tangible evidence that associates the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome with abnormalities in the brain.
Recent Stanford University School of Medicine study results may provide a beacon of hope not only for patients but for doctors who are frequently confounded by the disease. Those who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome are often really frustrated because so little is known about what causes the disease and treatment options have, at best, been hit or miss. It is not unusual for doctors to surmise that patients who present with symptoms of the condition, which can be all over the board, are hypochondriacs or malingerers seeking drugs.
The symptoms can include profound bone crushing fatigue, sore throat, muscle and joint pain, memory lapses, tenderness in the lymph nodes, and an overall feeling of malaise. According to 27-year old Lindsay Sihilling, who suffered for two years and through six doctors, before being diagnosed, “There’s a lot of brain fog and listlessness. Sometimes I get headaches and flu-like symptoms.”
Writer, Julie Rehmeyer, also diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome says, “Fatigue hardly described what I felt. Paralysis was more like it. My legs seemed to have been amputated and replaced with tubes of liquid concrete…” She was told by her doctor that the disease was not well understood which she interpreted to mean he did not know how to help.
Thankfully, Rehmeyer eventually found chronic fatigue syndrome specialist Nancy Klimas, a doctor who did not believe that her condition was psychosomatic and knew without a doubt that her complaints did not stem from just laziness. She confirmed the pattern of physiological abnormalities that are often found in CFS patients, immune system irregularities and problems with blood pressure.
The recent study findings suggest that there are distinct variances in the brains of healthy people as compared to the brains of people with chronic fatigue syndrome. Stanford University School of Medicine, assistant professor of radiology, Dr. Michael Zeineh, and his team found several irregularities in the brains of CFS sufferers including decreased white matter. It is suspected that the decreased white matter might signal some form of chronic swelling occurring in the brain and possibly in the body as well.
Researchers also found irregularities in a patch of nerve fibers in the brain’s right hemisphere. Called the arcuate fasciculus, on the left side of the brain, this nerve tract is critical to language but doctors are not sure what happens when the nerve bundle on the right side is damaged. Clearly to Dr. Zeineh and his team, “The more abnormal this tract was in a patient the worse the fatigue was.”
Chronic fatigue syndrome experts are encouraged by the findings. Dr. Paolo Nucifora, from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine says, “It suggests an actual organic basis for the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.” Those afflicted by chronic fatigue syndrome are likely hopeful that these findings will prompt more research and conclusive proof that it is a real disease and not just laziness.
Opinion By Constance Spruill