Scientists say they have struck upon the first “robust evidence” that the debilitating condition known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) has a biological cause.
People with chronic fatigue syndrome suffer from exhaustion that affects everyday life and does not go away with sleep or rest. In extreme cases it leaves people bedridden, and even those with moderate symptoms often have to ration their daily activity or give up work.
A group of proteins called cytokines, released by cells involved in the immune system, were identified at high levels during the early stages of the disease, a Columbia University study reported.
The researchers found distinct biomarkers created by the immune system in those with the disease. They also found differences in those who have had the disease for less than three years and those who have had it more than three years. People who had the illness less than three years, had higher amounts of different types of cytokines. The elevated cytokines levels seem to return to normal levels after the acute illness has faded, because the immune system has become exhausted.
A total of 298 ME/CFS patients were involved in the study, along with 348 healthy individuals. The findings are published in the journal Science Advances.
The findings should accelerate the process of establishing the diagnosis and are “evidence confirming what millions of people with this disease already know, that ME/CFS isn’t psychological”.