Scientists have said they might be able to diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), which has been typically hard to do, thanks to inflammation biomarkers that have been identified.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was carried out by the Stanford University School of Medicine in California. It could lead to CFS – also known as Myalgic Encephalopathy (ME) – being recognized as a physiological disease, not a psychological condition. At the moment, there is no cure or effective treatment for CFS.
"There's been a great deal of controversy and confusion surrounding ME/CFS – even whether it is an actual disease," said the study’s senior author, Mark Davis, in a statement. "Our findings show clearly that it's an inflammatory disease and provide a solid basis for a diagnostic blood test."
In the study, they examined blood samples from 192 patients with CFS, and 392 healthy control subjects. Among those with CFS they identified 17 cytokines – types of protein – that seemed to be driving the conditions. Of these, 13 were pro-inflammatory.
One cytokine in particular was of interest, called leptin, which is secreted by fat tissue. This tells the brain when the stomach is full, but it’s also more abundant in women’s blood than men. This may explain why women are more likely to develop CFS, with 75 percent of cases being female.
Perhaps most importantly, though, is that this research could be a step towards CFS being recognized as an actual disease with a diagnosis. Also known as Myalgic Encephalopathy (ME), the condition can cause extreme tiredness, headaches, and even flu-like symptoms.
"[CFS has] been observed and talked about for 35 years now, sometimes with the onus of being described as a psychological condition,” said Jose Montoya, the study’s lead author, in the statement. “But chronic fatigue syndrome is by no means a figment of the imagination. This is real."
As always, more research will be needed to confirm the findings. But if confirmed, perhaps more research can also go into finding a cure for CFS. As New Scientist notes, a team in Norway has had some success by targeting the immune system and reducing inflammation. But until we know exactly what’s causing CFS, a full treatment remains elusive.