What Causes Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

The Healthier Life

United Kingdom

May 28, 2009

Despite lots of research, experts haven’t been able to pinpoint Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) to one single cause. Some believe CFS (or CFS/ME) develops from multiple contributing factors which manifest as CFS/ME under the right conditions.

What causes chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME)?

Probably a question every CFS/ME sufferer asks their doctor and one that makes many doctors scratch their heads.

Besides the up-hill battle to get a proper diagnosis, when CFS/ME sufferers were asked about their biggest struggles resulting from this condition 33 per cent said education was a major concern. A further 13 per cent said dealing with a disbelieving doctor, 12 per cent said financial worries and dealing with the symptoms and 10 per cent said managing day-to-day. Isolation (44 per cent), losing relationships (31 per cent) and losing independence (20 per cent) were cited as their biggest quality of life issues.

CFS/ME: Difficult prognosis, difficult diagnosis

Despite lots of research, experts haven’t been able to pinpoint CFS to one single cause. Some believe CFS (or CFS/ME) develops from multiple contributing factors which manifest as CFS/ME under the right conditions.

Contributing factors may include:

    * Genetic factors
    * Central nervous system and hormone abnormalities
    * A virus or other infection
    * Immune system abnormalities
    * Stressful conditions
    * Toxins

Not all the factors apply to everyone with CFS/ME. It’s more likely that sufferers have a combination of these factors which led to the condition. This in itself makes it very difficult for a doctor or specialist to diagnose CFS/ME.

Different combinations of these factors cause different symptoms and manifests in different ways in the body and for this reason you will find that no two sufferers experience CFS/ME in the same way. Each case of CFS/ME is as individual and unique as the person suffering from it.

Experts have now started to identify categories, or subgroups, of CFS/ME. Eventually, sub-grouping may help sufferers and their doctors to figure out the best way to treat each individual case.

CFS/ME: Genetic Factors & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Recent research links CFS/ME with genes involved in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system.

The HPA axis controls your sleep, response to stress, and depression. Researchers looked at DNA that controls how your body reacts to trauma, injury and stress, and they found a common variation that could predict CFS/ME with 76 per cent accuracy. This research could be the first credible evidence of a biological basis for CFS/ME.

Other studies show genetic abnormalities in people with CFS/ME that influence immune function, cellular communication, and the ways cells generate energy.

This research suggests that some people may be genetically predisposed to CFS/ME.

CFS/ME: Central Nervous System & Hormone Abnormalities

Researchers are especially interested in some of the central-nervous-system chemicals and hormones controlled by the HPA axis:

* Neurotransmitter changes: Neurotransmitters are chemicals that communicate messages in your brain. Research has shown that some people with CFS/ME have abnormal fluctuating levels of serotonin and dopamine (both neurotransmitters).
* Stress hormone deficiencies: Research has shown the levels of the stress hormone cortisol are low in CFS/ME sufferers. This could make it hard to deal with stress, either physical (such as infection or exertion) or mental. Cortisol replacement has helped some CFS/ME sufferers. In a US study by the Centre of Disease Control showed that women with CFS/ME had low morning cortisol levels while men with CFS/ME did not, which could help explain why the condition is far more common in women.
* Disturbed circadian rhythms: Your circadian clock (part of the HPA axis) regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Evidence suggests that in some people with CFS/ME this clock is thrown off, possibly by a mentally or physically stressful event. The body is unable to re-established the proper rhythm. Sufferers appear to spend more time in the REM (rapid-eye movement) phase of sleep, which is when you’re dreaming. People in this subgroup of CFS/ME get more help from sleep medications than people in other subgroups.


Comment from Leslie

Great information – however there is a missing link – living with your natural hormone cycle will east many of these symptoms.  Please see  Female Mystique on this site.


Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.