Chronic fatigue syndrome researchers
offer physical evidence
24 Aug 2004
A University of Alberta study has verified that there is
physical evidence for those who suffer from chronic fatigue
syndrome (CFS), giving new weight to the often stigmatized and
misdiagnosed disorder. Research just published in the
"International Journal of Psychophysiology" determined that,
using independent criteria, CFS can be distinguished from
depression--two disorders that share many of the same symptoms.
CFS is an often debilitating disorder, characterized by a
constellation of symptoms including fever, sore throat,
headache, muscle weakness, myalgias, post-external malaise,
sleep and cognitive disturbances. The level of disability varies
for people with CFS, but some individuals find they are unable
to return to work or function normally on a day-to-day basis.
Unfortunately, many of these symptoms are subjective in nature
and are difficult to quantify or confirm, says Hannah Pazderka-Robinson,
the lead author on the study. Not only does the stigma attached
with the disorder play an emotional toll on the patient, but it
has implications for insurance claims as well.
"There are a number of medical professionals who don't believe
that CFS exists in the first place," said Pazderka-Robinson.
"The problem is, both CFS and depression are characterized by
very similar profiles. Imagine a patient who approaches a doctor
and tells him they feel depressed and tired all the time.
"Since depression shows a high co-morbidity with CFS, some CFS
patients are often given antidepressants--that don't work or
work poorly, since they do not address the underlying condition.
Again, when these medications don't work, physicians sometimes
jump to the conclusion that there isn't really anything,
physically, wrong. Obviously, both misdiagnosis and the tendency
for doctors to treat these patients as if they're not really
sick can be extremely distressing. It can also undermine the
patient's trust in the doctor and make them less likely to seek
treatment if the condition worsens."
The most significant part of the research was to provide
independent verification for CFS sufferers that these patients
are different than normal controls and they're not "just
depressed," said Pazderka-Robinson.
Numerous psychological investigations have attempted to
differentiate these groups, with limited success. The U of A
study was the first of its kind to use electrodermal
activity--electrodes were placed on each hand--to investigate
the differences among CFS, depression patients and healthy
controls. Using tone and light stimuli, the results showed that
CFS can be discriminated from those with major depression by
recordings of skin temperatures and electrodermal activity.
Moreover, the profile of CFS patients is clearly different from
normal controls, suggesting there is a clear biological basis to
Pazderka-Robinson completed this study with researchers from the
University Centre for Neuroscience at the University of Alberta
and from Alberta Hospital.
Contact: Phoebe Dey