STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Singer's struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome

Stuart Murdoch's experience with chronic fatigue syndrome inspires his songwriting for the band Belle and Sebastian.

Posted: Dec 18, 2018 9:46 AM
Updated: Dec 18, 2018 9:56 AM

Chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition that causes extreme tiredness, could be triggered by an overactive immune system, a study has found.

UK researchers found that an exaggerated immune response can trigger long-lasting fatigue, suggesting this is how the condition -- also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis or ME -- begins.

The study, published Monday, is the first to shed some light into the immune system's role in the development of the condition, a multisystem disorder about which very little is known, according to lead researcher Carmine Pariante, professor of biological psychiatry at King's College London.

Limited insight to date has made treatment a challenge.

Pariante explained that in a lot of chronic fatigue cases, patients remember an infection, such as a very bad cold or other viral infection, in the early stages of developing the condition.

"We had this information for quite a long time but didn't know what was going on in the body of these patients," he said.

Around 250,000 people in the UK and 17 million people worldwide are affected by chronic fatigue, according to British charity Action on ME. An estimated 836,000 to 2.5 million Americans struggle with the syndrome, according to the CDC.

To try to find out more about it, the team modeled a possible route to the condition based on a treatment for chronic hepatitis C infections called interpheron alpha, because the treatment is known to induce persistent fatigue in some people.

Interpheron alpha affects the immune system in a similar way to a strong infection, the study explains.

Researchers measured fatigue and immune activity in 55 patients receiving hepatitis C treatment with interferon-alpha.

Patients were followed up before, during and after the hepatitis C therapy. Of the participants, 18 patients -- about a third -- developed lasting fatigue, defined as fatigue lasting longer than six months after treatment.

The group with lasting fatigue also experienced a greater immune response -- shown by a doubling in the levels of immune system messenger molecules interleukin-10 and interleukin-6.

Immune markers were measured with a blood test during the study.

The team also saw higher levels of these molecules in these patients before treatment had even begun.

"What this data strongly suggest is that people that develop CFS in response to an infection, they do so because their immune system is primed to hyper react," Pariante explained. Why a person's immune system could be primed to hyper react is unclear, but genetics could be a possible reason, he added.

Delayed diagnoses

Patients are often diagnosed with chronic fatigue five, six or even up to 10 years later, according to Pariante, because the diagnosis is based entirely on symptoms, such as headaches, difficulty concentrating and the inability to engage in activities.

By the time they are diagnosed, patients would have been ill for quite some time, making studies into the biology of people who develop the illness difficult, he added.

Dr. Charles Shepherd, medical adviser to the ME Association in the UK, explained in an email that "many doctors still don't know how to diagnose and manage ME/CFS."

Shepherd, who was not involved in the study, said that a lack of research means "that we still don't have any effective forms of treatment."

Many people who have chronic fatigue find pacing helpful in managing their condition, according to the UK's National Health Service. Pacing requires people to balance rest and activity in order to avoid making their fatigue and other symptoms worse.

Shepherd said that the study "adds to the growing weight of scientific evidence which indicates that the body's immune system is playing an important role in the causation of ME/CFS."

The model the team used for the study "is relevant to the two most common causes" of chronic fatigue, Pariante said: a strong infection and a major stressful life event.

The study also found that "having quite severe acute fatigue during an infection, or shortly after infection" makes people more at risk of developing chronic fatigue, he added.

Pariante hopes that once questions about why this happens are understood, future treatments and screening can be identified.

The study's small sample size was cited as a limitation by Pariante. More studies are needed to confirm its relevance to chronic fatigue patients, the paper says.

'Blackness descending'

Skye Wheeler, a 19-year old from Cambourne, Cornwall, is housebound due to her chronic fatigue syndrome.

"You can't get dressed and ready for the day without a blackness descending over your eyes. You can't carry a conversation, let alone even speak," she explained in a statement.

"The bottom of the line is that there is no energy there in the first place to channel through your body to all the right places. The only thing you can do is lie and exist," she said.

The condition affects many body systems, and people who have chronic fatigue syndrome feel debilitating pain and fatigue because their body and brain are unable to recover after even small efforts.

About a quarter of people affected by the condition are severe cases, meaning they are bedridden, house-bound or wheelchair-bound at some point in their illness, according to the ME Association.

Huntsville
Overcast
62° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 62°
Florence
Overcast
65° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 65°
Fayetteville
Overcast
61° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 61°
Decatur
Overcast
62° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 62°
Scottsboro
Overcast
66° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 66°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 136055

Reported Deaths: 2364
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19752350
Mobile13449292
Montgomery8852184
Tuscaloosa8654118
Madison792778
Shelby601349
Lee592760
Baldwin552650
Marshall396143
Calhoun353444
Etowah352145
Morgan331428
Houston292021
Elmore267348
DeKalb243221
St. Clair233036
Walker231984
Talladega217129
Limestone211920
Cullman190720
Dallas179126
Franklin178129
Autauga177325
Russell17633
Lauderdale172333
Colbert166626
Blount161715
Escambia161124
Chilton158830
Jackson158111
Covington140327
Dale139244
Coffee13596
Pike120510
Chambers116842
Tallapoosa116485
Clarke110016
Marion96829
Butler91339
Barbour8857
Winston74512
Marengo72420
Pickens66614
Bibb65610
Lowndes65427
Randolph65413
Hale64428
Geneva6344
Lawrence62123
Cherokee61213
Bullock60614
Monroe5908
Clay5878
Washington55913
Perry5416
Crenshaw54032
Conecuh53611
Wilcox53211
Henry5075
Macon48318
Fayette4628
Sumter43819
Cleburne3825
Lamar3702
Choctaw35112
Greene30315
Coosa1723
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 192995

Reported Deaths: 2377
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby30953459
Davidson26630306
Hamilton951995
Knox949779
Rutherford936189
Williamson531036
Sumner486598
Wilson351945
Putnam334940
Montgomery311144
Unassigned30425
Out of TN298627
Bradley296217
Madison292164
Sevier263815
Blount253524
Maury240924
Washington232836
Robertson222535
Sullivan219733
Hamblen193926
Tipton183219
Gibson170423
Trousdale16667
Hardeman158226
Wayne14995
Dyer138714
Bedford136417
Dickson127415
Coffee125413
Cumberland121718
Weakley120519
Fayette120419
Anderson120013
Obion119110
Henderson118924
Loudon11846
Carter117728
Greene116144
McMinn114625
Jefferson113014
Warren10757
Lawrence106713
Macon106721
Monroe105218
Hardin104716
Lauderdale99416
Haywood99221
Franklin9899
Lake9252
Roane9055
Carroll89920
McNairy89618
Bledsoe8624
White8479
Rhea84412
Hawkins82218
Cheatham81510
Marshall7785
Overton7586
Cocke7549
Smith73111
Johnson7262
Chester64310
Giles63117
Henry6289
Lincoln6241
Hickman5938
DeKalb57014
Crockett54219
Marion5338
Decatur5307
Fentress5263
Campbell4544
Claiborne4425
Polk39910
Grainger3863
Union3642
Benton3379
Jackson3315
Morgan3203
Grundy3095
Cannon2920
Unicoi2891
Humphreys2583
Sequatchie2381
Clay2335
Meigs2283
Houston2243
Scott2172
Stewart2142
Lewis2041
Moore1791
Van Buren1660
Perry1530
Pickett1232
Hancock1083

Community Events