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Chronic fatigue syndrome: complex disorder caused by different factors

Experts believe that chronic fatigue syndrome ( CFS ) is a complex disorder caused by many different factors.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is the term generally accepted by scientists and clinicians for a range of complaints that are commonly referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis.
Chronic fatigue syndrome causes persistent and unexplained fatigue resulting in severe impairment to daily functioning.

Different factors predispose people to chronic fatigue syndrome, trigger the onset of the condition, or perpetuate the syndrome. The factors currently known to predispose people to CFS include: neuroticism, introversion, and inactivity in childhood.

Genetics may also have a role, as women are more prone to chronic fatigue syndrome than men.

Factors that trigger chronic fatigue syndrome include sudden severe physical or psychological distress, such as loss of a loved one. A link has also been found between infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus and chronic fatigue. Psychological processes seem to be involved in the perpetuation of complaints in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Judith Prins at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Netherlands, comments: " The aetiology and pathogenesis of chronic fatigue syndrome are generally believed to be multifactorial. Distinction between categories of predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors is useful for understanding this complex disorder. The assumption is that one or more factors of each of these categories is conditional but insufficient for the development of chronic fatigue syndrome."

Prins and colleagues add that cognitive behaviour therapy ( CBT ) - a general form of psychotherapy directed at changing condition-related cognitions and behaviours - and exercise therapy are the only interventions that have been found to be beneficial for chronic fatigue syndrome. CBT teaches patients with chronic fatigue syndrome how to acquire control over symptoms.

Source: The Lancet, 2006