Chronic fatigue syndrome is an inflammatory disease that can easily be diagnosed with blood test according to new research say medical researchers.
Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine found that people suffering the symptoms of CFS show spikes in 17 proteins called cytokines that are produced by the immune system. The larger the rises, the more severe the condition. Chronic fatigue syndrome, which is also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), affects around 250,000 people in the UK. The symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome include extreme fatigue, muscle pain, sleep problems, headaches and flu-like symptoms.
CFS often develops following an illness, infection or traumatic event and scientists have suspected that it could be that the immune system failing to shut down properly causes CFS. Antivirals and anti-inflammatories have also been shown to help some sufferers.
For many decades the illness has often been dismissed by sceptics as being "all in the mind" and even called disparagingly "yuppie flu" because no test would confirm a physical cause or process. The new research is the first to show a concrete reason for the condition: chronic inflammation, driven by the immune system. Inflammation is the body’s way of responding to an invader and the reason that people feel so groggy when combating a cold or the flu.
“There’s been a great deal of controversy and confusion surrounding ME/CFS — even whether it is an actual disease,” said Dr Mark Davis, professor of immunology and microbiology and director of Stanford’s Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection.
“Our findings show clearly that it’s an inflammatory disease and provide a solid basis for a diagnostic blood test.” The scientists analysed blood samples from 192 of patients with ME/CFS symptoms and compared them with samples from 392 healthy control subjects.
The results showed that levels of immune system secretions called cytokines were lower in patients with mild forms of ME/CFS than in the control subjects, but elevated in patients with relatively severe cases.
When comparing patients the investigators found that the concentrations of 17 of the cytokines were linked with disease severity and 13 triggered inflammation.
Leptin, a hormone, which controls appetite and hunger was also found to be in high quantities in people with severe forms of the chronic fatigue syndrome. Leptin levels inform the brain when the stomach is full and raised leptin levels are cause appetite loss when people are ill.
Leptin is already more abundant in women, and scientists believe its presence in the study could help she light on why women are more affected. Three out of every four patients are women.
“Chronic fatigue syndrome can turn a life of productive activity into one of dependency and desolation,” said Jose Montoya, MD, professor of infectious diseases, who is the study’s lead author.
“I have seen the horrors of this disease, multiplied by hundreds of patients. “It’s been observed and talked about for 35 years now, sometimes with the onus of being described as a psychological condition.
“But chronic fatigue syndrome is by no means a figment of the imagination. This is real.”
The research was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.