Possible Causes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia

by Stephanie Brail

It is a medical mystery worthy of House, M.D. - finding the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia. Researchers have been stumped for decades. Here are some potential culprits:

1. Viral or Bacterial Infection

For a long time, chronic fatigue syndrome was often called "Chronic Epstein-Barr Virus Sydrome" due to the elevated levels of Epstein-Barr antibodies in many CFS patients. While the specific Epstein-Barr theory has fallen somewhat to the wayside, researchers are still looking into the roles viruses and other infections may play in the development of CFS and fibromyalgia. Current thinking seems to lean towards the idea of an infection serving as a trigger for the disease in conjunction with other factors, but not necessarily being the sole cause.

2. Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are common symptoms for both CFS and fibromyalgia patients. Some researchers have speculated that the sleep disorders are actually causing the illness and aren't just a symptom. This theory is even stronger in the fibromyalgia research community, where scientists are exploring the part restless leg syndrome may play in fibromyalgia pain.

3. Brain Abnormalities

With both CFS and fibromyalgia, researchers have considered the idea that some sort of brain abnormality or dysfunction is causing the disease. Researchers have actually found abnormalities in the brains of CFS patients. These brain abnormalities could explain the cognitive dysfunction, fatigue, and pain symptoms.

4. Orthostatic Intolerance (Low Blood Pressure)

Up to 95% of people with chronic fatigue syndrome have "neurally mediated hypotension," which means they have low blood volume. With orthostatic intolerance, blood pressure can fall instead of rising when it should, and blood doesn't circulate properly to various organs and extremities, including the brain.

5. Injury

A common theory in the fibromyalgia community is that injury, specifically to the upper part of the spinal cord, can trigger the illness.

6. Immune System Malfunction

While immune system abnormalities have been found in CFS patients, scientists have yet to find a definitive immune system "marker" that would pinpoint a causal element.

7. Other Body System Malfunction

Fibromyalgia researchers are studying the role that nervous system abnormalities might play, while CFS researchers are looking at the endocrine system as well.

8. Genetics

In 2006, researchers announced that they had discovered some common DNA sequences that could predict CFS with 76% accuracy. With fibromyalgia also running in families, it appears that some sort of genetic component is likely.

In Conclusion

As many researchers have already stated, it's possible that there is no one "cause" of CFS or fibromyalgia. Rather, these illnesses could be created by a "perfect storm" of genetic and physical weaknesses that are put under further duress by infection or injury. If this is the case, finding a fast and easy cure may be extremely challenging, but perhaps doctors will someday be able to fix the underlying conditions that add up to disease.


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