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Understanding CFIDS.

Efforts to expand education and research have enhanced understanding of chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS). This brochure answers common questions about this neurological and immunological illness, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

The following questions are answered below:

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What is CFIDS?

How is CFIDS diagnosed?

What are other common symptoms?

How is CFIDS treated?

How many people have CFIDS?

Who gets CFIDS?

Do person with CFIDS get better over time?

What causes CFDS?

Are viruses involved in CFIDS?

Is it contagious?

What precautions should PWCs [ILLEGIBLE TEXT]

Should PWCs receive flu shots or [ILLEGIBLE TEXT] immunizations?

Is exercise helpful or harmful?

Is weight gain common?

Is depression common?

What role does stress play in this [ILLEGIBLE TEXT]

How does pregnancy affect CFIDS [ILLEGIBLE TEXT]

Is CFIDS related to other illnesses [ILLEGIBLE TEXT]

Why is this disease called CFS or [ILLEGIBLE TEXT]

What is being done to conquer [ILLEGIBLE TEXT]

For further reading

Up to the CFIDS Home Page

What is CFIDS?

Chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS) is a serious and complex illness that affects many different body systems. It is characterized by incapacitating fatigue (experienced as profound exhaustion and extremely poor stamina), neurological problems and numerous other symptoms. CFIDS can be severely debilitating and can last for many years. CFIDS is often misdiagnosed because it is frequently unrecognized and can resemble other disorders including mononucleosis, multiple sclerosis (M.S.), fibromyalgia (FM), Lyme disease, post-polio syndrome and autoimmune diseases such as lupus. CFIDS is also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and myalgic encephalomyelitis (M.E.).

How is CFIDS diagnosed?

Despite a decade of research, there is still no definitive diagnostic test for CFIDS.

A research and clinical definition for CFIDS was developed by an international group of researchers led by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). This case definition was published in the December 15, 1994 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Diagnosing CFIDS requires a thorough medical history, physical and mental status examinations and laboratory tests to identify underlying or contributing conditions that require treatment. Clinically evaluated, unexplained chronic fatigue cases can be classified as chronic fatigue syndrome if the patient meets both the following criteria:

1. Clinically evaluated, unexplained persistent or relapsing chronic fatigue that is of new or definite onset (i.e., not lifelong), is not the result of ongoing exertion, is not substantially alleviated by rest and results in substantial reduction in previous levels of occupational, educational, social or personal activities.

2. The concurrent occurrence of four or more of the following symptoms: substantial impairment in short-term memory or concentration; sore throat; tender lymph nodes; muscle pain; multi-joint pain without joint swelling or redness; headaches of a new type, pattern or severity; unrefreshing sleep; and post-exertional malaise lasting more than 24 hours. These symptoms must have persisted or recurred during six or more consecutive months of illness and must not have pre-dated the fatigue.

The case definition describes several medical conditions which, when present, exclude a patient from a diagnosis of CFS. Among these conditions is a past or current diagnosis of a major depressive disorder with psychotic or melancholic features. This type of primary depressive disorder is not to be confused with the secondary depression that often accompanies CFIDS. (See below for additional information on CFIDS and depression.)

What are other common symptoms?

Persons with CFIDS (PWCs) have symptoms which vary from person to person and fluctuate in severity. Specific symptoms may come and go, complicating treatment and the PWC's ability to cope with the illness. Most symptoms are invisible, which makes it difficult for others to understand the vast array of debilitating symptoms that PWCs have.

The eight primary symptoms described in the CDC's case definition are listed above. Other symptoms common to CFIDS are listed below (please note that most PWCs do not have all these symptoms and that they are not required for diagnosis). PWCs have cognitive problems in addition to difficulties with concentration and short-term memory (such as word-finding difficulties, inability to comprehend/retain what is read, inability to calculate numbers and impairment of speech and/or reasoning). They also have visual disturbances (blurring, sensitivity to light, eye pain, need for frequent prescription changes); psychological problems (depression, irritability, anxiety, panic attacks, personality changes, mood swings); chills and night sweats; shortness of breath; dizziness and balance problems; sensitivity to heat and/or cold; alcohol intolerance; irregular heartbeat; irritable bowel (abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, intestinal as); low-grade fever or low body temperature; numbness, tingling and/or burning sensations in the face or extremities; dryness of the mouth and eyes (sicca syndrome); menstrual problems including PMS and endometriosis; chest pains; rashes; ringing in the ears (tinnitus); allergies and sensitivities to noise/sound, odors, chemicals and medications; weight changes without changes in diet; light-headedness; feeling in a fog; fainting; muscle twitching; and seizures.

How is CFIDS treated?

Treatment for CFIDS is intended primarily to relieve specific symptoms. Treatment must be carefully tailored to meet the needs of each patient. Sleep disorders, pain, gastrointestinal difficulties, allergies and depression are some of the symptoms which physicians commonly attempt to relieve through the use of prescription and over-the-counter medications. Persons with this illness may have unusual responses to medications, so extremely low dosages should be tried first and gradually increased as appropriate.

Lifestyle changes, including increased rest, reduced stress, dietary restrictions, nutritional supplementation and minimal exercise also are frequently recommended. Supportive therapy, such as counseling, can also help to identify and develop effective coping strategies.

Researchers and clinicians specializing in CFIDS use therapies which attempt to alter the mechanism or nature of the disease. For additional information on treatment, see The CFIDS Chronicle.

How many people have CFIDS?

A new study by DePaul University estimates CFS at approximately 422 per 100,000 persons in the U.S. This means as many as 800,000 people nationwide suffer from the condition. 90% of patients have not been diagnosed and are not receiving proper medical care for their illness (Jason LA, Richman JA, Rademaker AW, Jordan KM, Plioplys AV, Taylor RR, McCready W, Huang CF, Plioplys S: A Community-Based Study of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Arch Int Med 1999; 159 (18):2129-37.).

Few studies of CFS in children and adolescents have been published. It is well-accepted that adolescents get CFS, although less frequently than adults.

Who gets CFIDS?

CFIDS strikes people of all age, ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

Research has shown that CFS is about three times as common in women (522/100,000) as men, a rate similar to that of many autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and lupus. To put this into perspective, CFS is over four times more common than HIV infection in women (125/100,000), and the rate of CFS in women is considerably higher than a woman's lifetime risk of getting lung cancer (63/100,000).

Do PWCs get better over time?

The course of this illness varies greatly. Some people recover, some cycle between periods of relatively good health and illness and some gradually worsen over time. Others neither get worse nor better while some improve gradually but never fully recover.

The CDC is conducting a long-term study of PWCs to learn more about the course of illness. CDC investigators have reported that the greatest chance of recovery appears to be within the first five years of illness, although individuals may recover at any stage of illness. Investigators also have found an apparent difference in recovery rates based upon the type of onset. PWCs with sudden onset reported recovery nearly twice as often as those with gradual onset. This study is ongoing and observations about the course of illness are likely to change as more data are collected.

What causes CFIDS?

The cause of CFIDS is not yet known, but a growing number of researchers is dedicated to uncovering the cause (etiology), mechanism of disease (pathophysiology) and effect on the body (pathogenesis).

Current research shows evidence of immune system dysfunction in CFIDS. The exact nature of this dysfunction is not yet well-defined, but is generally viewed as an up-regulated, or overactive, state. Considerable evidence indicates that CFIDS patients have a dysfunction of the central nervous system.

Researchers are trying to identify the agent(s) responsible for causing CFIDS. Scientist are also studying immunologic, neurologic, endocrinologic and metabolic abnormalities and risk factors (such as genetic predisposition, age, sex, prior illness, environment and stress) which may affect the development and course of the illness.

Are viruses involved in CFIDS?

Many scientists are convinced that viruses are associated with CFIDS and may cause the disease. It was once thought that Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), a herpesvirus that causes mononucleosis, caused this syndrome. Elevated antibodies to a number of viruses, including EBV, cytomegalovirus (CMV) and human herpesvirus-6 (HHV-6), indicate a viral component to CFIDS, although not necessarily a cause. Enteroviruses, newly discovered retroviruses, herpesviruses and other viruses are being studied to see if they cause or contribute to the disease process.

Is CFIDS contagious?

No one knows what causes CFIDS or if it can be transmitted. Most people in close contact with CFIDS patients have not developed the illness; however, clusters of cases have occurred in families, workplaces, schools and communities. Several of these clusters have been investigated and no infectious agent has been found. While there is no documented evidence that CFIDS is infectious, it is studied by the infectious disease divisions of the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Preliminary research indicates that genetics may help determine who gets the illness. When members of the same family become ill, they are more often blood relatives than spouses.

What precautions should PWCs take?

PWCs should consult their physicians about what precautions may be advisable since questions remain about the possibility of contagion.

In general, persons with serious illnesses are advised against donating blood, blood products or organs. Additionally, some physicians encourage PWCs to take univeral precautions recommended to persons with infectious illnesses until more is known about CFIDS. These measures also would help protect PWCs from common viruses and bacteria that could contribute to an increased number and/or severity of symptoms. Other physicians believe that there is no risk to non-ill contacts and that no special precautions are necessary.

Should PWCs receive fin shots or other immunizations?

Persons with CFIDS often have up-regulated immune systems and frequently don't make antibodies after receiving immunizations. Persons with up-regulated immune systems are at higher risk for adverse reactions to vaccines. Allergy shots, however, seem to be better tolerated. PWCs are urged to consult their physicians and to analyze the potential benefits and risks before taking or refusing any immunization.

Is exercise helpful or harmful?

One hallmark of CFIDS is an intolerance of previously well tolerated levels of physical activity. Most PWCs' symptoms worsen severely, sometimes for days, following even minor exertion. Physicians generally recommend that PWCs perform limited (and preferably anaerobic, e.g., light weight training) physical activity to guard against the negative consequences of deconditioning, but that they listen to their bodies and not push beyond their limits.

Is weight gain common?

Some patients lose weight, but many PWCs gain it without a significant change in eating habits. This gain may be due to CFIDS-related disturbances in metabolism as well as decreased activity.

Is depression common?

Many PWCs become depressed as a result of--rather than a cause of--CFIDS. Depression is common in all chronic illnesses; it results from numerous losses, life changes and altered brain chemistry. In some cases depression becomes very severe. CFIDS-related depression can be managed with medication and/or supportive counseling.

What role does stress play in this illness?

Stress is very harmful to PWCs. Physical and/or emotional stress usually worsen symptoms and contribute to relapse. PWCs are advised to decrease the stress in their lives as much as possible.

In more global terms, stress has been found to weaken the immune system and increase susceptibility to illness in most animals, including humans. Some researchers believe that stress (especially major life changes) may contribute to the onset of CFIDS, as it does in many other diseases.

How does pregnancy affect CFIDS?

This issue has been explored only informally. According to limited clinical observations, some pregnant women with CFIDS experience no change in their symptoms. Others report symptom remission from early in the pregnancy and lasting until about six weeks after the delivery.

Pregnant women with CFIDS should seek care from an obstetrician early and often during pregnancy. Many medications that treat CFIDS symptoms must be stopped or decreased during pregnancy and resumed after giving birth and discontinuing breast feeding.

The question of whether CFIDS can be transmitted from parent to child remains unanswered. There is currently no evidence that babies born to parents with CFIDS are different from other babies. When deciding whether or not to have a child, PWCs and their partners should consider the enormous expenditure of energy required to care for a baby and, later, an active child.

Is CFIDS related to other illnesses?

There are a host of illnesses that share many of the symptoms of CFIDS. Fibromyalgia, neurally mediated hypotension (NMH), chronic Lyme disease and interstitial cystitis are just a few of many overlapping syndromes. Research is underway to determine the relationship among these illnesses.

Specifically, fibromyalgia means pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons. The requisite for diagnosis of fibromyalgia is widespread pain lasting a minimum of three months and at least 11 of 18 specified tender points clustering around the neck, shoulders, chest, hips, knees and elbows. Other symptoms commonly experienced by persons with fibromyalgia include sleep disturbance, cognitive difficulties, irritable bowel, fatigue and headache.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have reported preliminary evidence supporting a link between CFIDS and a known blood pressure disorder called neurally mediated hypotension (NMH) or vasodepressor syncope. In NMH, the brain and the heart do not communicate properly, even though both are structurally normal. An inappropriate response to adrenaline (a hormone produced when the body is under stress) causes blood pressure to fall when it should rise. Individuals with NMH feel lightheaded and may feel faint when this condition is triggered by various physical and emotional stressors. Cognitive problems, muscle aches and severe fatigue often follow and can become chronic. Further studies, including clinical trials of treatments used to manage this condition, are underway at Johns Hopkins University, the National Institutes of Health and other medical centers.

Why is this disease called CFS or CFIDS?

The term chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) was adopted in 1988 in the original case definition published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The authors selected this name based on limited knowledge about the illness and a belief that the most common complaint among patients was debilitating, prolonged fatigue.

The term "chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome" (CFIDS) was proposed by a researcher to illuminate the multi-systemic impact of the illness. CFIDS and CFS are now used interchangeably by PWCs, clinicians and researchers.

Unfortunately, the name chronic fatigue syndrome trivializes the disease. CFS is often confused with chronic fatigue, a symptom of most illnesses. The name also places too great an emphasis on the single symptom of fatigue.

In the late 1980s, the media coined the term "yuppie flu" to describe CF(ID)S. This demeaning label reflected differences in access to health care among those with the disease and showed a lack of understanding about its complexity. However, many people went undiagnosed or were misdiagnosed because of the perception that CFIDS only affected white professionals. Today we know that there is nothing "yuppie" about CFIDS. It is a serious illness that knows no demographic or socioeconomic boundaries.

CFIDS advocates and physicians who understand the scope of the illness have great interest in adopting a more appropriate name for CFIDS. This is likely to occur only after the cause or a marker is found or the pathogenesis (effect on the body) is better understood.

What is being done to conquer CFIDS?

The suffering inflicted by CFIDS can be alleviated only through education, enlightened public policy and research--the three areas in which The CFIDS Association of America leads the nation. These Association-sponsored programs have brought early and impressive progress and are essential to the battle against CFIDS.

Individual contributions are the Association's greatest source of support for these critical programs. Help us mobilize the medical community to eradicate this disease by becoming a member of and/or making a tax-deductible contribution to the Association today. Donations are tax-deductible to the full extent allowed by law.

For further reading--

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Diagnosis and Treatment -- Information on diagnosis, management, and clinical trial results, provided by The CFIDS Association of America.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Research News -- new publications on CFS, fibromyalgia, neurally mediated hypotension, Chiari Malformations, and other related conditions; studies recruiting subjects; information for patients considering enrolling in clinical trials; and scientific databases and bibliographies. Resources provided by The CFIDS Association of America.

The CFIDS Chronicle published quarterly by The CFIDS Association of America. Includes an online archive.

Disability and Health Insurance -- news, policies, and resources provided by The CFIDS Association of America.

CFS in Youth Home Page -- Information for children, adolescents, and college students with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, neurally mediated hypotension, and related conditions, including bibliographies of pediatric research, pen pals, and information for parents and educators.

Running on Empty by Katrina H. Berne, PhD

A Doctor's Guide to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome by David S. Bell, MD

For more information on these and other publications about chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome, contact the Association's Resource Line at 704/365-2343 and ask for a list of educational materials.

The CFIDS Association of America

Advocacy, Information, Research and Encouragement for the CFIDS Community PO Box 220398 Charlotte NC 28222-0398 Toll-free Info Line: 800/442-3437 Resource Line: 704/365-2343 Fax: 704/365-9755 General e-mail: info@cfids.grg

[C] 2000, The CFIDS Association of America, Inc.

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Title Annotation:chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome
Publication:Pamphlet by: CFIDS Association of America
Article Type:Pamphlet
Date:Jan 1, 2000

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