Condition Spotlight

Dismissed for many years as an imaginary ailment, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has only recently been accepted as a medical condition. While conventional medicine has achieved only limited results in treating CFS, alternative physicians are proving that taking a multidisciplinary approach specific to the needs of each individual patient can successfully treat the illness.

The immune systems of people with CFS, unlike those of healthy people, are in a constant overactive state and never return to a normal operating level. This overactivity is what is behind the deep fatigue; paradoxically, this heightened activity overlays a condition of dysfunction and immune incompetency.

When the first cases of chronic fatigue syndrome were identified in the 1980s among patients in a small Nevada town, the strange disease—marked principally by deep fatigue and muscle aches—was dubbed “Yuppie flu” because it seemed to be concentrated among young, affluent white professionals. Due to this and to the seemingly subjective nature of the symptoms, CFS was the butt of jokes and its sufferers were often not taken seriously by many physicians. Since then, CFS (also known as chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome, or CFIDS) has become an epidemic and crossed all ethnic and demographic barriers. It is now recognized as a severe, debilitating illness, although the previously dismissive attitude persists in some doctors.

A recent study estimates that over 1,000,000 persons in the U.S. suffer from CFS and that 90% of patients have not been diagnosed and are not receiving proper treatment. Other sources place the numbers much higher. Some researchers claim chronic fatigue syndrome afflicts an estimated three million Americans and possibly 90 million people worldwide. The National Institutes of Health estimates that most CFS sufferers are middle-class and white and at least two-thirds are women.2 While not defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control  (CDC) until 1988, and later revised in 1994, CFS has probably been around for centuries, although known under different names. Its symptoms resemble those of “the vapors,” common in the 18th century, and “soldier’s heart,” suffered by World War I veterans.3

Medical researchers have sought in vain to find a single cause for CFS, at times attempting to link it to the Epstein-Barr virus, candidiasis, and herpes virus.