January 6, 2009

Early trauma, chronic fatigue link found

Trauma during childhood could predispose the sufferer to chronic fatigue syndrome as an adult, researchers at Emory University in Atlanta found.

In a report in Tuesday's Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers said they found 62 percent of adults with chronic fatigue syndrome suffered a childhood trauma such as neglect or abuse, compared with 24 percent of adults who hadn't experienced such trauma, USA Today reported.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is unexplained exhaustion, aches and pains that last more than six months, said Janet Squires, director of the Child Advocacy Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, who wasn't part of the study.

It's eye-opening to see that things that go wrong in childhood might impact people for the rest of their lives, Squires told USA Today.

Study author Christine Heim said relatively few trauma survivors develop chronic fatigue, which affects about 2.5 percent of the adult population. Research also indicates the syndrome could be caused by an infection or immune system problem, she says.

While the study linked trauma and chronic fatigue, Heim said it wasn't designed to prove that trauma actually causes the condition. To better prove the link, researchers must do a forward-looking study in which they follow trauma survivors for many years, she said.

Heim said her study also found a possible biological explanation. Adults with chronic fatigue had lower levels of a stress hormone called cortisol, as do many people with post-traumatic stress disorder.