Chronic fatigue syndrome used to be dismissed as "Yuppie flu," but now the Centers for Disease Control recognizes it as a disease and is spending $1.5 million to study its frequency and impact.
CFS is a debilitating disease that strikes twice as many women as men, according to an article in the current issue of Good Housekeeping, particularly those between 25 and 45.But Dr. Anthony Komaroff, chief of general medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, also treats men, children and senior citizens. Most cases of chronic fatigue start suddenly with a flulike illness, but then the unique symptoms of CFS set in and can last an average of 31/2 to four years.
Many people tend to get somewhat better after a year or so, but only 15 to 20 percent of CFS patients seem to fully recover and 5 percent remain homebound or bedridden.
CFS attracted media attention five years ago when it hit a Nevada community. At first, researchers thought this epidemic and other cases that sprouted up across the country were linked to the Epstein-Barr virus, the main cause of infectious mononucleosis. But today the virus's role is still unclear.
Before 1988, when the CDC established guidelines to diagnose the disease, people who complained about their unrelenting fatigue were often thought to be hypochondriacs, hysterical, lazy or victims of their own over-achieving lifestyle.
For a while CFS was called Yuppie flu and was considered a trendy ailment that would vanish with a good dose of rest. But doctors kept seeing more and more patients with symptoms ranging from mild to severe.
The combination of symptoms that can mean CFS include persistent, overwhelming fatigue that does not go away with rest, low-grade fever, sore throat and-or swollen lymph nodes and lingering fatigue after levels of exercise that would normally be easily tolerated.
Other symptoms include headaches, muscle weakness or pain, pain in joints, forgetfulness, irritability, confusion, inability to concentrate, depression, sensitivity to light, impaired vision and sleep disturbances.
If you suspect CFS, a doctor will first rule out other conditions that also cause fatigue, such as anemia, thyroid disease, cancers, lupus, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and depression.
Finding the right doctor to diagnose and treat CFS can be frustrating because many doctors still don't know much about the disease, others deny it exists since there is no simple blood test to detect it and disreputable practitioners may give unnecessary tests or offer unproved treatments.
- For more information and references to support groups and doctors, contact:
National C.F.S. Association, 3521 Broadway, Suite 222, Kansas City, Mo. 64111; 816-931-4777.
C.F. and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome Association, P.O. Box 220398, Charlotte, N.C. 28222-0398; 704-362-CFID.
C.F. Immune Dysfunction Syndrome Society, P.O. Box 230108, Portland, Ore. 97223; 503-684-5261.