The CDC Friday launched the first national campaign on chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), designed to increase awareness among the public of the disease affecting an estimated 1 million Americans. Previously not considered a legitimate physiological disorder, the cause of CFS remains unknown and is possibly a common endpoint of disease resulting from multiple causes. “We are committed to improving awareness that this is a real disease,” says Julie Gerberding, M.D., director of the CDC.
Up to 80 percent of people with chronic fatigue do not know they have it. Women are four times as likely to be affected as men, commonly within the age group between 40 and 59 years of age, according to the CDC. Symptoms include unexplained prolonged fatigue lasting six months or longer combined with muscle and joint pain, headaches, cognitive impairment, sore throat, tender lymph nodes, post-exertional fatigue, and unrefreshing sleep.
There is no diagnostic test or biomarker to identify the disease, making diagnosis difficult. CFS shares symptoms with many other diseases, and diagnosis must be made on an exclusionary basis, first ruling out diseases with similar symptoms, including fibromyalgia, chronic Lyme disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, primary sleep disorders, and chronic mononucleosis. No two CFS patients have the exactly the same symptom set, which previously contributed to the belief that the disease could be due to a psychological disorder. “While the evidence is not definitive, it goes against long-held notions that chronic fatigue syndrome is a figment of patients’ imaginations,” says Anthony Komaroff, M.D., a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Because there is no known cure, there is no defined therapy. Treatment is aimed at symptom relief and improved function through prevention of overexertion, reduced stress, dietary restrictions, stretching, and nutritional supplementation. Alternative therapies recommended for CFS include acupuncture for pain management, massage therapy, and stretching and movement therapies (tai chi, yoga). For more information, visit the new CFS website, www.cdc.gov/cfs, which provides educational tools for patients and health care professionals.