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Carrington College Blog

New research hones in on cause of chronic fatigue syndrome

November 10, 2014

Scientists may have identified the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome. A new study conducted by researchers at Stanford University used brain imaging to find distinct differences between healthy humans and those with chronic fatigue syndrome. The findings, published in Radiology, suggest that brain imaging may be a pivotal tool in diagnosing and treating the condition. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) can be extremely trying on those affected, especially those in busy job roles such as a medical assistant or pharmacy technician. According to Tech Times, chronic fatigue syndrome affects between one and four million people, but estimating a more exact number can’t be generated because the condition can’t be easily diagnosed.

Chronic fatigue syndrome

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CFS is a condition in which patients suffer severe fatigue for more than six consecutive months, though the fatigue is not due to medical conditions or regular exertion.Doctors must rule out all possible other options when diagnosing CFS.

Until the research underwent at Stanford University, no possible cause or test had been found to identify and diagnose CFS. Symptoms of the condition include unrefreshing sleep, muscle pain, sore throat, head ache, and even potential lapses in short term memory. In the past, the process of diagnosing CFS required ruling out any other possible medical condition. Though more research is required for the scientists at Stanford to confirm their findings, they may have finally found a solution.

The study

Using brain imaging, the team found three distinct differences between the brains of healthy individuals and those with CFS. Fifteen patients with the condition were identified and included in the study along with a control group of 14 healthy participants. The team found that those with CFS notably had less white matter, which carries signals to different areas of the brain.The other two distinguishing factors in CFS patients were less white matter in an area called the right arcuate fasciculus and less thickened grey matter. The scientists believe these factors may be the root causes of CFS, and if their findings are confirmed, brain imaging could become an effective method for efficiently identifying the condition.

These findings could prove beneficial for millions of Americans who experience CFS but have not yet been diagnosed. According to a senior author on the study, CFS can devastate people for anywhere from 10 to 30 years.3 Without understanding the condition, there’s historically been little medical professionals can do to help those suffering.

“If you don’t understand the disease, you’re throwing darts blindfolded,” said Dr. Michael Zeineh, lead author of the Stanford study. “We asked ourselves whether brain imaging could turn up something concrete that differs between CFS patients’ and healthy people’s brains. And, interestingly, it did.”

These robust results could alter the way medical professionals approach diagnosing fatigued patients, and if the causation of CFS is confirmed professionals in the field of pharmacy technology can potentially work to create drugs that address the condition. The CDC notes that there are currently no drugs developed for treating CFS, and that managing the condition can be a complex challenge.2  

1“Brain anomalies hint of chronic fatigue syndrome in patients,” by Dianne Depra, Tech Times, October 29, 2014.

2 “Chronic fatigue syndrome,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Study finds brain abnormalities in chronic fatigue patients,” by Bruce Goldman, Stanford Medicine News Center, October 28, 2014.