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Chronic fatigue: structural abnormalities found in patient’s brain

chronic fatigue


A recent study, published in the journal Radiology, led by Dr. Michael M. Zeineh from Stanford University School of Medicine in California found that structural abnormalities exist in the brains of those patient suffering from chronic fatigue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 1 million adults in the US are affected by chronic fatigue syndrome Because there is no single test to identify the condition, diagnosis includes ruling out other conditions for which fatigue is an evident symptom.

“It’s very frustrating for patients,” says Dr. Zeineh, “because they feel tired and are experiencing difficulty thinking, and the science has yet to determine what has gone wrong.”

Aside from severe fatigue, individuals with CFS can experience muscle pain, impaired memory or mental concentration, insomnia and post-exertion weakness. What is more, the condition can last for years in some cases.


Though scientists have not yet identified a specific cause of CFS, one theory is that it could have multiple triggers, including: infections, nutritional deficiency, immune dysfunction, stress that activates the HPA axis – the axis where the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands interact – and abnormally low blood pressure.

According to The Solve ME/CFS Initiative, CFS is two to four times more common in women as it is in men, but the condition affects people from every age, racial, ethnic and socioeconomic group.

Unfortunately, fewer than 20% of patients with the condition in the US have been properly diagnosed.

MRI technique yielded ‘80% accuracy for CFS detection’
Fast facts about CFS
Individuals with the condition function at a lower level of activity than they were capable of before they became ill
Some symptoms include visual disturbances, dizziness, brain fog, irritability, depression, gastrointestinal disturbances and fainting
At least 1 million people in the US have CFS, and it affects millions more worldwide.

To further investigate ways of diagnosing the condition, Dr. Zeineh and Stanford CFS and infectious disease expert Dr. Jose G. Montoya performed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on 15 patients with CFS and on 14 controls who were age and gender matched.

Using three different MRI techniques, the team measured the size of different brain compartments, assessed the integrity of signal-carrying white matter tracts of the brain and measured blood flow.

After comparing results between the two groups, the researchers observed that individuals with CFS had lower white matter volume in the brain, compared with the control group.

Additionally, individuals in the CFS group had high fractional anisotropy (FA) values – a measure of the diffusion of water – in a white matter tract called the right arcuate fasciculus.

The team says this suggests something abnormal was occurring in the white matter of the right hemisphere.

Dr. Zeineh says, Within CFS patients, right anterior arcuate FA increased with disease severity. The differences correlated with their fatigue – the more abnormal the tract, the worse the fatigue.”

He says their results indicate that the right arcuate fasciculus could be a biomarker for CFS, aiding diagnosis and treatment.

In addition to this finding, the researchers discovered abnormalities in the brains of CFS patients at two points in the brain that connect the right arcuate fasciculus. Each cortex – connection point – was thicker in individuals with CFS.

Though a limitation of their study was their small sample size – only 15 CFS patients were included – Dr. Zeineh says their technique shows “tremendous promise,” adding that they “used automated techniques to look at these tracts and were able to achieve 80% accuracy for CFS detection.”

The next step will be for the findings to be replicated and expanded upon to further comprehend the relationship between numerous brain abnormalities and Chronic fatigue symptom (CFS). Earlier  in July this year, a research done by doctors suggested patients with CFS generally get improper care and services.

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