Researchers using a combination of different imaging techniques have found structural abnormalities in the brains of people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), according to a new study published online in the journal Radiology. Researchers from the University of Stanford discovered reoccurring brain abnormalities in those suffering from what some believe to be a serious health condition robbing sufferers of the energy needed to function on a day to day basis.
The study, using advanced imaging techniques, showed chronic fatigue patients had less white matter than a healthy comparison group, as well as structural variations in the right hemisphere of the brain. The finding is one of the first that shows a concrete difference in people with the condition, which is currently diagnosed only by ruling out other ailments.
“We wanted to see what’s going on with chronic fatigue syndrome in the brain,” Zeineh, an assistant professor of radiology at Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a telephone interview. “We know these patients are suffering and traditional methods don’t show anything.”
“Most CFS patients at some point in time have been accused of being hypochondriacs and their symptoms dismissed by others,” Zeineh says. “And there is still skepticism in the medical community about the diagnosis. That’s one of the reasons these findings are important.”
CFS is estimated to affect somewhere between 1 million and 4 million Americans, Zeineh says. Along with the hallmark symptom of a crushing, unremitting fatigue that persists for six months or longer CFS patients also will have at least four of the following: impaired memory or concentration, sore throat, tender lymph nodes, headaches, muscle pain, joint pain, unrefreshing sleep and post-exertional malaise.
While Zeineh and his colleagues had expected to see damage to the white matter, they were surprised to find an abnormality in a bundle of nerve fibers in the right hemispheres of patients with CFS. This nerve tract, which is called the arcuate fasciculus, connects the frontal lobe and the temporal lobe. It appears on both the right and left sides of the brain. On the left side it seems to be crucial to language, but what it does on the right side is uncertain. One thing is clear, Zeineh says, “the more abnormal this tract was in a patient the worse the fatigue was.”
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