I find this study both encouraging and a little worrying.
While no information seems available to indicate what type of ‘chemical signature’ this refers to specifically, the results suggest the pattern in those with CFS symptoms bears similarity to the signature of animals in hibernation. Makes sense, from a common sense perspective that CFS is predominantly characterised by exhaustion.
This suggests that there’s an indication that the body is going into a state similar to hibernation, in those with CFS. Of course, it’s such early days that any findings should be taken with a degree of caution and a pinch of salt, especially when considering the direction of cause and effect is not known.
It’s a step in the right direction because there’s very little in the way of any biological underpinnings for CFS, making diagnosis incredibly difficult. On top of that, many doctors do not recognise it or value it as a genuine condition. This has led to much debate as to the existence of chronic fatigue, not to mention scepticism within the general public towards those dealing with it. If even doctors can’t agree on it, aren’t convinced it is a ‘real’ diagnosis, then it is unsurprising that there is so much taboo and judgement lingering around. Is it in your head? Is it psychosomatic, are you lazy, is it an excuse for not finding the real reason behind your symptoms?
Demystifying CFS, or ME as it is also referred (though some disagree the two are one and the same), is a good thing for those currently diagnosed and for future patients. Perhaps this study, and those that follow, may pave the way for more a more adequate and timely diagnostic process, and perhaps even treatment in future years.
But it also worries me. It’s not that I don’t believe CFS is ‘real’, but I am concerned of the potential for it to be used as an umbrella term, in a similar way that I feel the term IBS can be handed out. It’s a quicker, easier solution for a doctor to lump symptoms together and say it’s CFS when nothing else is found, preventing the need for further investigation or discussion. I remember early on when things started going downhill for me; I was perhaps 20, and a new GP said that I “probably have mild ME”. He had done no tests, didn’t seem to take anything I said seriously and failed to investigate anything with any adequacy. It took changing GP surgeries another two times and seeing various doctors to eventually be diagnosed with Pernicious Anaemia, hypothyroidism and chronic Vitamin D deficiency, among other things. Despite being on treatment, I still feel no better. It’s at this point that a diagnosis may be made for CFS, or if a thorough battery of tests have all come back negative. It’s scary to think that simply labelling someone as having chronic fatigue may sideline them; underlying conditions may then not be picked up and they’re then left with little help as there’s no specific treatment for CFS.
Of course, diagnosis is incredibly difficult, both because there’s no particular test(s) for CFS, and because the symptoms can be so varied and overlap numerous other conditions and deficiencies. A little more awareness of CFS, validation that it is a physical issue rather than a mental state or excuse, and less ignorance will be a great step forward. I hope the research continues and that one day, whenever that may be, tests and treatment will be adequate and effective for a condition that affects and limits the lives of so many.