WASHINGTON — Researchers have found a hormonal disorder that may play a role in the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, the mysterious disorder of exhaustion, fever, depression and aches sometimes called “yuppie flu.”
Federal scientists report that blood studies of a group of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS, showed that they had lower levels of cortisol, a hormone that acts to control the immune system and is secreted in response to stress.
Further tests, said Dr. Philip W. Gold of the National Institute of Mental Health, showed that the CFS patients also had a low level of corticotropin releasing hormone, or CRH, a brain chemical that plays a key role in the production of cortisol.
Gold said a shortage of cortisol is known to cause lethargy and fatigue, while CRH is a key hormone in the body’s “fight or flight” reaction, the automatic response to fear or a sense of danger. The imbalance of the chemicals, said Gold, could leave patients in a permanent state of lethargy.
“We conceptualize this as a malfunction of the stress response,” said the scientist. “The stress response has kind of gotten stuck in the off position.”
CFS is characterized by fatigue, fever, enlarged and sore lymph glands, muscle and joint aches, sleeplessness, depression and an inability to concentrate. Often, the symptoms last for months. It is seen most frequently in young adults, hence the slang description of “yuppie flu.” The disease, however, has been found in all ages and races, and in both genders.
The number of people with CFS is not known, but the estimates range in the tens of thousands, federal researchers say.
Gold said the study provides a biological explanation for the symptoms observed in CFS sufferers and “takes it away from the impression that these patients are malingering.”