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Childhood Trauma Associated with Adult Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Written by Jeanne Bohm, Ph.D.   

 From the NetDoc medical news feed

Childhood trauma and adult stress may be risk factors for developing chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), according to a study in the November issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. The study suggests that CFS might result from the inability to cope with stress.

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CFS affects between 400,000 and 900,000 U.S. adults and is described as unexplained fatigue lasting for more than six months which does not improve with rest. To be diagnosed with CFS a person must have at least 4 of the following symptoms: fatigue, extreme fatigue after exertion, memory and concentration difficulties, continued fatigue after sleep, headaches, muscle pain, joint pain, sore throat and tender lymph nodes. The cause and disease pathology are currently unknown.

Christine Heim, Ph.D., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Emory University, and colleagues studied 43 CFS patients and 60 participants without CFS. All participants (average age 50) underwent a medical examination and were interviewed about possible psychiatric disorders. The participants also filled out a questionnaire which assessed various types of childhood trauma including emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and emotional and physical neglect. Responses were numerically coded to produce a score for each type of trauma as well as an overall trauma score.

CFS patients had higher overall trauma scores and each additional type of trauma increased the risk of getting CFS between three and eight times.

Emotional neglect and sexual abuse during childhood had the strongest correlation to CFS. The most severe forms of CFS were in patients with childhood trauma. CFS patients were also more likely to have depression, anxiety and/or post-traumatic stress disorder. The researchers believe that that CFS
is associated with childhood adversity or in adults dealing with an acute stress.

The authors concluded CFS is strongly linked to stress and mood reactivity and might reflect the brain’s inability to adapt to challenges. 

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Early Adverse Experience and Risk for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006;63:1176.

AMA Media Release

About the Author

Jeanne Bohm, Ph.D. is a cancer biologist by training, a medical writer
and an experienced science educator.

The author has no financial relationship to any of the companies listed
in the article


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