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Medical understanding of chronic fatigue syndrome improving

Here at Roboostoff & Kalkin, we have represented many people who are disabled because of medical conditions that can be hard to prove, giving disability insurance companies an excuse to deny their claims. Chronic fatigue syndrome, known as CFS, is a classic example of this type of illness with its myriad of subjective symptoms. 

While symptoms like pain, fatigue and weakness may not be objectively measurable, they are still very real and can prevent people from being able to work.

As researchers study CFS and doctors see patients with it over time, our understanding of the disorder is sharpening. A recent Jane Brody article in the New York Times sheds light on new discoveries of what happens to the body facing CFS. 

It is not just in your head 

First, CFS is not an emotional or mental disorder. Brody says that it is a “serious, long-term illness possibly caused by a disruption in how the immune system responds to infection or stress,” similar to the processes of “autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis but without apparent signs of tissue damage.” 

To reflect this, the new name “myalgic encephalomyelitis” or ME or ME/CFS for the disease is gaining use. The phrase means “brain and spinal cord inflammation with muscle pain.” Common symptoms include joint pain, sore throats, allergic reactions, problems with digestive function, severe fatigue, headaches and debilitating malaise after physical exertion. 

According to the article, about one-tenth of CFS patients report suffering from one of three serious infections (Ross River virus, Coxiella burnetii or Epstein Barr) before the CFS onset — more evidence that the illness has its roots in physical abnormalities. 

For example, CFS is characterized by persistently high numbers of cytokines, tiny proteins important in immune-system regulation. Infection-fighting T-cells and other similar cells function at diminished capacity. 

Associated emotional and mental impacts 

While not a mental illness, the symptoms, prognosis and interruption of daily life from CFS can understandably be associated with depression, anxiety and other similar mental conditions. 

Victims also may experience confusion, impaired concentration, memory issues and, according to the Huffington Post UK, cognitive problems like “[d]ifficulty remembering words, planning or organizing thoughts, and processing information.” 

Relevant to CFS patients making claims for long-term disability benefits under private or group policies, Brody says that government officials in the U.S. and U.K. describe the disease as lasting at least six months and potentially for years. There is still no known cure.  

Critical to a long-term disability claim based on CFS is careful diagnosis by a doctor with specific CFS knowledge and experience.