Chronic fatigue, a syndrome that causes chronic exhaustion, difficulty with everyday tasks, and worsening symptoms during times of physical exertion, has long been the subject of medical controversy. One recent study found that doctors tend to stereotype patients with chronic fatigue, and though 2.5 million Americans struggle with chronic fatigue, only a third of medical schools offer training about this syndrome.
This week, the Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit organization that offers research and suggestions for health care policy, confirmed that chronic fatigue is a real condition. The Institute also proposed changing chronic fatigue’s name to systemic exertion intolerance disorder.
Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disorder Confirmed as Real Disease
Chronic fatigue/systemic exertion disorder is a diagnosis of exclusion, which means there’s no single test that can tell people whether or not they have it. Consequently, more than two-thirds of people with chronic fatigue wait a year or longer to get a diagnosis, with 29% waiting five years or longer.
Attitudes toward people with chronic fatigue don’t help matters. Research suggests that doctors view people with the syndrome as socially deviant and lazy, with some doctors even believing symptoms are fake or the result of a mental health condition. The Institute of Medicine hopes to combat this approach with its pronouncement. A panel of experts agreed that chronic fatigue is real, and suggested that renaming the condition might encourage doctors to take it more seriously. Chronic fatigue, the reasoning goes, sounds like something everyone struggles with from time to time, while systemic exertion intolerance sounds more like a legitimate medical condition.
Symptoms of Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disorder
People experiencing symptoms of chronic fatigue may have trouble getting a diagnosis since diagnostic criteria vary depending upon who’s doing the diagnosis. The Institute of Medicine issued new diagnostic criteria in an attempt to clarify matters. Under the new guidelines, a person qualifies for a diagnosis if they meet all three of the following criteria:
- Difficulty engaging in per-illness activity levels for six months or longer.
- Worsening of symptoms during physical or mental exertion.
- Fatigue that sleep does not alleviate.
Additionally, people must have one of the following symptoms to qualify for a diagnosis:
- Impaired thinking and cognition
- Difficulty maintaining an upright posture, with symptoms improving when lying down
- Raine, R., Carter, S., Sensky, T., & Black, N. (2004). General practitioners’ perceptions of chronic fatigue syndrome and beliefs about its management, compared with irritable bowel syndrome: Qualitative study. BMJ, 328(7452), 1354-1357. doi:10.1136/bmj.38078.503819.EE
- Thompson, D. (2015, February 10). Rebranding chronic fatigue syndrome. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/rebranding-chronic-fatigue-syndrome/
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