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What Triggers Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Thursday, December 20th, 2018

New research suggests that the body’s response to infection may be responsible for onset of a Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), according to research from King’s College in London. The study, reported by The Guardian, found that an overactive immune response appears to be a trigger for persistent fatigue.

CFS is a debilitating long-term condition where individuals experience exhaustion that does not go away even after long periods of rest, and suffer pain, mental fogginess and have problems with both memory and sleep. It is sometimes referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).

Studies have suggested a connection between the immune system, with the possibility that viral infections may also serve as a trigger.

It’s hard to say whether stress, an immune response or a virus triggers the symptoms, said one researcher. Since it’s not possible to predict who will become sick from a virus, it’s not possible to review levels of biological markers before, during and after a CFS “trigger” infection.  Researchers have used a group of people with different condition as a model to explore persistent fatigue. Woman CFS Needs Help with DIsability Insurance Claim

The study, which was published in the medical journal  Psychoneuroendocrinology, described the process of researchers working with 55 patients suffering from chronic hepatitis C. All were given a six to twelve-month course of injections of interferon alpha, a protein that is produced naturally by the body that stimulates white blood cells to provoke an immune response. In the past, the treatment has been linked to a side-effect of ongoing fatigue in select patients. As expected, some patients experienced an increase in fatigue levels, which stopped when the injections stopped. All of the patients recovered from hepatitis C.

But here’s what happened next: six months after treatment finished, 18 of the 55 remained more tired than when treatment began. These patients had a slightly higher level of a protein linked to inflammation in their blood before treatment began, and after treatment, their levels of this protein and another protein that is a marker for inflammation were twice as high as those who recovered with no persistent fatigue.

To make matters a little more confusing, six months after treatment stopped, there were no differences in the levels of the inflammation proteins between those with and those without persistent fatigue.

For comparison, the team took one-off measurements of the same inflammation markers of 54 different people who have had CFS for years and 57 healthy participants, and no difference in their levels were found. But by the time that the ongoing fatigue was established, the immune activation was no longer present.

The conclusion by researchers is that there is some relationship between the immune system and CFS, but exactly what is not clear, and even more troubling is the question of why the fatigue remains when the trigger seems to have gone away.

The fact is, CFS is still a medical mystery, with many unknowns about its causes and how to treat it. For long-term disability insurance companies, the lack of clear-cut information for both a diagnosis and treatment makes CFS a red flat condition, and one that continues to present challenges for claimants.

If you are struggling with CFS and your disability insurance company has denied your claim, or is requesting more information than seems reasonable, please call our office at 877-583-2524.

Reference: The Guardian (December 17, 2018) “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome ‘could be triggered by overactive immune system’”

Justin C Frankel

Written By:

Justin C. Frankel - Disability Insurance Attorney

Justin Frankel is a founding partner of the disability insurance law firm Frankel & Newfield and is a highly skilled litigator and advocate. He has published numerous articles on the challenges facing clients with private or individual disability insurance policies and those who own group or ERISA disability insurance policies.

Learn more about Justin | See Justin’s Publications



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