The Basics of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Prevalence of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study from 1989 to 1993 to estimate the prevalence of chronic fatigue syndrome; they estimated that four to 8.7 of every 100,000 adults living in the U.S. suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. However, more recent studies indicate that these projections are underestimated. The prevalence of chronic fatigue syndrome is difficult to measure because the illness can be difficult to diagnose, but in general, it is estimated that perhaps as many as half a million persons in the U.S. have a CFS-like condition, according to the CDC.

Chronic fatigue syndrome does not appear to be a new illness, although it has only recently been assigned the name CFS. Relatively small outbreaks of similar disorders have been described in medical literature since the 1930s. Furthermore, case reports of comparable illnesses date back several centuries.

Interest in what now is called CFS was renewed in the mid-1980s after several studies found slightly higher levels of antibody to Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) in patients with CFS-like symptoms than in healthy individuals. Most of these patients had experienced an episode of infectious mononucleosis (sometimes called mono or the "kissing disease") a few years before they began to experience the chronic, debilitating symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. As a result, for a time the CFS-like illness became popularly termed "chronic EBV".

Further investigation revealed that elevated EBV antibodies were not indicators of chronic fatigue syndrome. Some healthy people have high EBV antibodies and some people with CFS do not. Currently, it is not considered useful to test for antibodies to EBV in a patient with symptoms suggestive of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Copyright 2003 National Women's Health Resource Center Inc. (NWHRC)