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Trauma Associated with Chronic Fatigue

January 6, 2009

Chronic fatigue syndrome affects as many as 2.5 percent of adults in the United States. Little is known about the cause, but new research suggests childhood trauma may play a role.

Researchers at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta studied 113 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome and 124 healthy patients who were used as controls. Participants answered questions about past traumatic experiences, had their levels of the hormone cortisol tested and also underwent screening for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome reported higher levels of childhood trauma, so much so that exposure to trauma was associated with a six-fold increase in the risk of having the condition. Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome were also more likely than the control patients to have depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Cortisol levels were decreased in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome who experienced childhood trauma, but not in those with the syndrome who had not suffered from childhood trauma.

Study authors concluded that stress in early life might cause a biological susceptibility to chronic fatigue syndrome. Reinforcing that idea was the additional finding of the study that neuroendocrine dysfunction — or abnormalities in the interaction between the nervous system and endocrine system — appears to be associated with childhood trauma in those with chronic fatigue syndrome.  Researchers say that suggests a biological pathway by which early experiences influence adult vulnerability to illness.

SOURCE: Archives of General Psychiatry, 2009

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